Use tools to plan holiday travel; what to expect this week

For many, life in the Northwest includes braving rain, wind and snow while trying to travel a significant distance to be with friends and family for Thanksgiving.

Fortunately, the electronic age is offsetting some of that difficulty, with more traffic-and-weather tools available for drivers all the time.

The state Department of Transportation offers travel information at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic, including traffic camera images, ferry schedules and a map of highway incidents and closures. Travelers also may download the DOT’s mobile app for smartphones and sign up for news and social media tools, such as Twitter. Visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/inform to learn how.

The statewide travel information phone line, 511, is expected to broadcast the latest updates through the weekend. In some areas, travelers may tune to 530 AM and 1610 AM on their car radios to hear what might be developing up the road.

More information is available for those traveling on U.S. 2 over Stevens Pass, on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, I-5 between Thurston and Pierce counties and I-5 between Bellingham and the Canadian border.

No matter your level of technological proficiency, the axiom of leaving early to miss the heaviest traffic always applies.

The state ferries expect heavy traffic. Holiday schedules and other ferry information is available on the state’s website at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries or by calling toll-free 888-808-7977.

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

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

Travelers planning weekend trips by train, plane or bus should also make plans to avoid holiday delays.

Amtrak Cascades has added 11 Thanksgiving trains to its usual schedule for Wednesday through Sunday. Thanksgiving always sells out quickly, so travelers should reserve seats and buy tickets early at www.amtrakcascades.com/ and arrive at least an hour before the train leaves. Visit the website or call 800-USA-RAIL for more information.

For information about traveling via state-operated small airports, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/aviation/airports/Amenities.htm or call 800-552-0666. Most public transit systems will follow a holiday schedule, and some transit systems will not operate fixed-route or Dial-A-Ride service on holidays.

The state has closed Highway 410 over Chinook Pass and Highway 123 over Cayuse Pass for the season. Highway 20, the North Cascades Highway, remained open as of Friday.

Long-term weather forecasts are predicting typical late-November weather with rain and wind across most of the state. Snowfall is expected in the higher elevations, so travelers should plan extra time to cross all mountains passes, carry chains and the WSDOT Winter Driving Guide.

Kory Gunnell of Lake Stevens writes: I understand the theory of traffic metering to help spread the traffic for merging onto the freeway. My question is regarding the metering lights on the ramp from Everett Mall Way and Highway 527 to northbound I-5. Often I enter the freeway here and the lights are red even when there is no traffic at the light or on the ramp. Why does the light stay red and make cars stop when there is really no traffic to meter? This seems to be a waste of time and fuel to make a car stop for no apparent reason.

As soon as I pull up to the light and stop, the light goes green and I get to go again. It seems it would be more fuel efficient and easier to merge into the traffic flow if I didn’t have to stop when there is no traffic. Could the lights be set to stay green unless there is traffic?

Bronlea Mishler, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, responds: The meter lights are kept on during peak commute periods because during those times the volume of traffic can change in a matter of seconds. Letting the meter “rest” on a red light as traffic approaches lets drivers know that they need to slow down and stop at the stop line. If a group of vehicles entered the on-ramp at the same time and all saw a green light, they would likely speed up to freeway speeds to merge into traffic. If the meter changed from green to red after the first car passed, the other vehicles would be forced to stop abruptly, which could lead to collisions. Keeping the ramp meter on red is safer for drivers because they know to anticipate a change in the signal.

E-mail us at stsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your city of residence.

Look for updates on our Street Smarts blog at www.heraldnet.com/streetsmarts.

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