As always, holiday traffic hard to predict

Your best bet for hitting the road for Labor Day is to leave early in the morning or wait until night.

Holiday traffic is expected to be better this year for folks heading back home over Stevens Pass on Labor Day.

Travel charts from the state Department of Transportation predict roughly seven hours of moderate to heavy traffic starting at 8 a.m. on westbound U.S. 2 from Leavenworth to the summit. That’s far better than the 10 hours — some of it stop-and-go — that was predicted last year.

A big reason: I-90.

State crews are wrapping up I-90 work over Snoqualmie Pass before the holiday.

That doesn’t mean smooth sailing, however. Labor Day holiday traffic over I-90 is expected to be more crowded this year than last. The trafficnosticators predict traffic all day between Cle Elum and North Bend, with the worst from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

That said, reality doesn’t always match up with estimates.

Last year’s actual traffic conditions for Labor Day ended up being anywhere from 7 percent below projections to 5 percent above projections, depending on the route, according to WSDOT.

U.S. 2 and I-90, for example, ended up being better than expected, perhaps in part because wildfires closed some recreational areas. On U.S. 2, actual westbound traffic volumes were low between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the holiday, when some of the worst traffic had been expected.

Predicting when people will travel is ultimately an educated guessing game.

Your best bet for hitting the road, no matter the holiday: Get an early start, or wait until nightfall.

If plans allow, vacationers can consider returning on a Tuesday. So far, traffic counters haven’t seen a marked increase in Tuesday volumes after Monday holidays, WSDOT staff said.

Meanwhile, construction on the U.S. 2 westbound trestle is suspended for the weekend, while the Evergreen State Fair continues.

The express toll lanes on I-405 will be free and open to all traffic.

Washington State Ferries will add additional service for the holiday, but lines will still be long. The Edmonds-Kingston route is expected to see the longest wait times.

Gas prices are expected to be at their highest for the Labor Day holiday in four years, according to AAA. While on a mostly downward trend, August has already been an expensive month at the pump, and prices typically swing up around the holiday weekend.

Washington’s average gas price earlier this week was sitting at $3.37 per gallon, down from $3.40 earlier in the month.

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