Be it car, ferry or train, expect delays for Thanksgiving travel

  • Sun Nov 20th, 2011 6:43pm
  • News

By Bill Sheets Herald Writer

If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving, it can’t be said enough:

Leave early.

Leave early.

Leave early.

You might say, so then what? If everyone leaves early, then you still get stuck in traffic, just at a different time, right?

No. It doesn’t work that way. Not everyone is going to leave early. Ever.

Of course, if you don’t mind turning a two-hour trip into a four-hour trek, and you have all kinds of time to kill, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.

So when is early?

It depends partly on where you’re going.

If you’re traveling on I-5 to Olympia or anywhere south, or taking a ferry or crossing the border into Canada, leaving extra time is especially important. If you going over the mountain passes, the traffic factors in less but the weather means more. The state Department of Transportation has a very useful webpage that shows average travel times for Thanksgiving weekend the past few years on selected routes in the area, such as part of U.S. 2; I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, and I-5 between Olympia and Tacoma.

It might surprise you to learn that no backups or delays are expected on U.S. 2 from Stevens Pass to Leavenworth on Wednesday or Thanksgiving Day.

Coming back on Saturday and Sunday is a little heavier. I-90 is more congested, especially coming back into town on Saturday or Sunday.

If you’re going south for the holiday, according to the state’s website — and from my personal experience — you’ve got to get through Olympia by 9 a.m. either on Wednesday or Thanksgiving Day to avoid a traffic jam.

The congestion continues pretty much from then on, all day, on Wednesday and until about 2 p.m. on Thursday.

Coming back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it’s busy through Tacoma in the middle of the day, stretching into the evening on Saturday and Sunday.

Also, heavy traffic is expected Friday morning at the I-5 exits to downtown Seattle as people make their way to the annual Macy’s Holiday Parade.

Congestion is expected in downtown Seattle on Saturday, for the annual Apple Cup football game between the University of Washington and Washington State University at CenturyLink Field.

The Seattle Marathon will close ramps on I-5 and Highway 520 along with the I-5 and I-90 express lanes on Sunday.

If you’re going west for the holiday, heavy traffic is expected on all Washington State Ferry routes through the weekend. Travelers should plan ahead and check routes and times before leaving. Schedules are available online and at terminals and vessels. All other routes will be on their regular weekday schedule. The longest lines to catch a ferry are expected westbound Wednesday afternoon and evening , and eastbound Friday morning.

If you’re looking to ditch your car and take public transportation, many other people have the same idea.

The week of Thanksgiving is typically Amtrak’s busiest travel period of the year, according to the transportation department. Amtrak will add 11 trains along the Amtrak Cascades route between Portland and Seattle to accommodate the travel demand during the holiday week, Wednesday through Sunday.

Amtrak will operate buses over the weekend as well. Call 800-USA-RAIL or go to for reservations and information.

Email us at Please include your city of residence.

Look for updates on our Street Smarts blog at

On the Web

For online traffic information regarding holiday travel, go to

Other information is available at the state’s driver information phone line at 511 or 800-695-ROAD (7623). TTY users can call 800-833-6388.

On the radio, check traffic updates at 530 AM and 1610 AM.