EVERETT — For a good time this weekend, stay home. Or close to home.
Holiday travel traditionally is heavy on roads and at sea. The pandemic is the wild card this year.
With fewer people traveling by planes and trains, automobiles are the favored means of getting away.
But it is hard to say how busy the roads will be.
“Normally we would release a Labor Day Weekend travel forecast with those kinds of numbers,” Kelly Just, a AAA Washington spokeswoman, said in an email. “COVID-19 forced the cancellation of such forecasts for Memorial Day weekend, the July Fourth holiday weekend and now, Labor Day weekend. The forecast comes from AAA’s own air and hotel bookings, showing where people are traveling and when. Unfortunately, the downturn in travel due to COVID-19 means we simply don’t have enough data from which to make those predictions.”
The Washington State Department of Transportation is predicting some heavy traffic over the holiday weekend, particularly on the Stevens and Snoqualmie mountain passes.
Longer wait times are expected at most ferry docks.
“This isn’t a normal year and people shouldn’t expect normal transit service, whether it’s with an airline or ferries,” said Ian Sterling, Washington State Ferries spokesman. “We are expecting your typical long summer wait times across the system, but there are some trouble spots, especially when you go farther north into the San Juan islands.”
Whidbey Island and the Kitsap Peninsula also are popular tourist destinations.
In the past, walking on was recommended when possible due to the limited number of vehicle spaces on a boat. Riders are now encouraged to drive on and stay in their cars. The galley is closed and areas of the decks are roped off.
Ferry travel for recreation is considered non-essential.
“We’re under stay-at-home advisories for most of us,” Sterling said. “When you’re talking about holiday weekends and you see these big bursts of activity, it begs the question of discretionary travel. People need to ask themselves whether they need to be on that boat or not.”
While weekday vehicle traffic has remained lighter than usual because more people are working remotely, weekend driving has continued to pick up as people look for recreation closer to home, said Barbara LaBoe, a spokeswoman for WSDOT.
That often means parks and trails, particularly since traditional Labor Day weekend activities such as college football games and the Evergreen State Fair at Monroe have been cancelled.
“I would tell anyone traveling this weekend, you should expect congestion and allow yourself more time,” LaBoe said.
She offered several tips for drivers, including altering travel to less busy times, staying close to home and having a backup plan if your location is already crowded. The latter should help reduce travel stress as well as slow the spread of COVID-19.
State travel analysts predict eastbound traffic over Stevens Pass will experience some congestion from noon to 4 p.m. on Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Westbound traffic across the pass is expected to be heaviest between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday.
The Department of Transportation also will keep traffic updates current throughout the holiday weekend on its mobile app, Facebook page, multiple Twitter accounts and online tools for traffic information and ferry schedules.
Drivers also should be aware that the Washington State Patrol will be out in full force.
“We have extra patrols on duty all weekend for DUI emphasis,” said trooper Heather Axtman.
Troopers also will be keeping an eye on parking at Eagle Falls, a popular swimming hole along U.S. 2 near Index, where some people have been leaving their cars along the highway in dangerous spots.
Mukilteo-Clinton and Edmonds-Kingston are two of the busiest ferry terminals. Skipping the ferry and driving around through Deception Pass is an option, but traffic might be heavy in that area and impeded by road construction.
Boats leave Mukilteo and Clinton every half hour for the 20-minute sailing. On the Edmonds-Kingston route, service is about every 50 minutes on either side for the 30-minute crossing.
Riders are advised to go early or late in the day and to buy a ticket online to ease the wait at the toll gate. You still have to wait your turn, though. Most routes don’t take timed departure reservations, except for Anacortes-San Juan Islands or Port Townsend-Coupeville routes.
“Even with a reservation you still may end up waiting several hours,” Sterling said.
Sign up for ferry email alerts or check terminal conditions online or by app.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.