EVERETT — Travel times could be twice as long as normal in the Seattle region this week as the country expects its highest year-end travel volume on record.
The greatest amount of congestion in the Seattle region likely will come Wednesday afternoon as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers, according to an earlier estimate by Kirkland-based traffic data company INRIX.
There is lingering uncertainty for many travelers, however.
Those who had expected to drive south early for the holiday are having to reshape their plans, following Monday’s Amtrak Cascades derailment from a bridge onto I-5 near DuPont.
Southbound I-5 remains closed through the Wednesday morning commute “at minimum” for the investigation and cleanup work.
Washington State Department of Transportation officials earlier warned that the work “may take days, not hours.” Crews cannot begin to make repairs on I-5, including damaged guardrail and pavement, until the locomotive and train cars are removed.
“We are encouraging folks to only travel if needed,” a Monday statement read.
Backups on one alternate route stretched to 14 miles Tuesday.
Detour routes for through traffic include taking Highway 16 to Port Orchard, then Highway 3 to Shelton and, from there, using U.S. 101 to get back to I-5 near Tumwater.
Another alternate route is Highway 7 south out of Tacoma to hook up with Highway 507 south of Spanaway, and then hook back north at Yelm on Highway 510.
A detour at Center Drive through Joint Base Lewis McChord to Highway 510 is for local traffic only.
One of the best sources for updated travel information in the area is at twitter.com/wsdot_tacoma.
Patience will be necessary if you choose to brave the closure.
“No detour is equipped for I-5 volumes,” Washington State Patrol Trooper Brooke Bova said in a tweet.
Warnings also were issued to those traveling northbound who have been slowing down to see the crash site. “Activity at rail site is a tempting distraction but your safety is more important,” a WSDOT Tacoma tweet read.
Most Amtrak Cascades service is unchanged for those who had booked holiday travel by train.
Some limited southbound service had resumed the day of the crash using other rail lines. Passengers with travel plans on Amtrak can confirm their train’s status, change their plans or review refund information at www.amtrak.com, or by calling 800-USA-RAIL.
Amtrak service alerts and other announcements are posted at amtrak.com/alerts.
More cars hit the road
This week is still expected to see the launch of record holiday travel, helped in part by back-to-back three-day weekends.
The last Monday Christmas was in 2006; Christmas fell on a Friday in 2015. New Year’s Day also falls on a Monday this season.
More than 107 million people are expected to travel from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1, a 3 percent increase over last year, according to AAA.
“We’ve seen the strong economy and growing consumer confidence fuel holiday travel all year long,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president, in a company press release.
When to leave
On I-5, the heaviest holiday traffic volumes in the Tacoma-Olympia corridor are typically expected 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, according to the state’s data-based predictions for Christmas travel.
Sunday and the Monday holiday are likely your best bets for the most manageable traffic in that stretch.
Weather can throw off expectations. And snow was falling this week in the passes.
At Stevens Pass, there was heavy snow falling Tuesday, with compact snow and ice on the roadway. The weather was expected to clear by the weekend.
You can check pass conditions online at www.wsdot.com/traffic/passes.
I-90 travelers can receive text alerts for Snoqualmie Pass delays of 30 minutes or longer by texting “wsdot snoqualmie” to 468311 (text “wsdot stop” to the same number to unsubscribe).
Find full Christmas travel time charts, including for U.S. 2 at Stevens Pass, at www.wsdot.wa.gov/congestion.
Ferry travelers can expect the longest lines westbound Friday afternoon and evening and eastbound throughout the day Monday and Tuesday. Many routes reduce some trips while adding in others for the holidays. For a current schedule, check www.wsdot.com/ferries.
Travel is free and open to all in the I-405 express toll lanes on holidays, just as they are on weekends and evenings. Learn how to help your out-of-town guests pay lower toll rates for their travel on normal weekdays at the Good To Go visitors webpage, wsdot.wa.gov/GoodToGo/visitors.htm.
Melissa Slager: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3432.