The holiday weekend is here, but traffic still could slow drivers down

May 24, 2024, 3:06 PM | Updated: May 26, 2024, 9:07 am

Image: Traffic on Interstate 5 passes through downtown on Nov. 28, 2013, in Seattle. Seattle, locat...

Traffic on Interstate 5 passes through downtown on Nov. 28, 2013, in Seattle. Seattle, located in King County, is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. (Photo: George Rose, Getty Images)

(Photo: George Rose, Getty Images)

The American Automobile Association (AAA) projected earlier this month 43.8 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. That number of people heading out to travel is a 4% increase over 2023 and comes close to matching 2005’s record of 44 million travelers for this weekend.

“We haven’t seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years,” Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel, stated.

Going further, road trips are expected to set a record. AAA projects 38.4 million people will travel by car during the Memorial Day weekend, the highest number for that holiday since AAA began tracking in 2000. The number of drivers this year is up 4% compared to last year and 1.9% higher than in 2019.

Traveling by car is appealing for many people because of the convenience and flexibility it provides. But while it may be convenient, many other people throughout the Pacific Northwest will likely have the same idea and get in the car for their trip. That’s going to cause a lot of traffic.

“I say this every year on holiday weekends like Memorial Day and Labor Day. Leave early or leave late. It’s really just that simple,” KIRO Newsradio traffic reporter Chris Sullivan said this week. “If you don’t want to be stuck sucking on the fumes of the cars in front of you, you need to beat them to the road or wait until they’ve already gone through.”

Sullivan also advised listeners to expect issues on the afternoon and some of the major roadways.

“You really don’t want to be on the road late this afternoon, as some people head out early,” Sullivan said. “The worst time to be on the road Friday will be between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. The worst roads will be Interstate 90 (I-90) East from North Bend to Ellensburg and Interstate 5 (I-5) south from Tacoma to Olympia.”

Some notes on specific Washington roads

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) released their Memorial Day weekend travel charts and the agency noted that I-5 between Lacey to Tacoma will see some level of congestion all day Sunday before it lets up later in the day. This was after drivers saw congestion in some spots through 7 p.m. Friday and large parts of Saturday too.

The news from WSDOT on I-90 between North Bend and Cle Elum is a bit better. But the travel charts reveal that area will see some level of congestion going west Sunday afternoon before the traffic completely lightens up later in the evening. Going east should be better, but travelers will see some “moderate to heavy traffic” between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday.

Drivers can also expect to see heavy traffic or congestion at various times all weekend on U.S. 2 between Stevens Pass and Skykomish and on I-5 between Bellingham and the U.S.-Canada border. Notably, travelers can expect to see congestion or “moderate to heavy traffic” going west from Stevens Pass to Skyhomish between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. and both directions between Bellingham and the Canadian border Sunday.

“The worst day of these three-day weekends is always the ‘get-back’ day on Monday. That’s going to be a grind from about 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” Sullivan said.

Looking at the Washington State Ferries (WSF), more than 350,000 people are expected to use the ferry system over the next four days, Sullivan said. The westbound trips will be jammed through Friday. Coming home eastbound on Monday, you had better be in line early, Sullivan added.

Also causing issues for ferry riders: Low tides. WSF had to cancel sailings Saturday and was forced to cancel several more Sunday. Head here for the latest information.

Expect the airport to be busy

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expected to screen over 365,000 passengers leaving Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac Airport) from through Tuesday. That is a nearly 10% increase from last year, KIRO 7 reported.

Airport officials estimate 760,000 passengers will be departing and arriving at the airport over the holiday.

When fliers take off and which airline they have booked with likely will make a difference for travelers as well.

JW Surety Bonds analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report to identify the best and worst airlines to rely on for fights.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac Airport) has the second most on-time departures during Memorial Day weekend, with 86.1% of all flights departing on time, according to the company’s analysis. Hawaiian Airlines, Alaskan Airlines, and Delta Air Lines are the best airlines to fly during Memorial Day weekend. Meanwhile Virgin Atlantic, Frontier Airlines, and JetBlue Airways are the worst airlines.

The company also reported flights scheduled between 6 and 7 a.m. across various airports tend to have the highest on-time departure performance, with percentages as high as 96.4%. On the other side, afternoon and early evening flights generally have the worst on-time departure performance, with flights between 2-3 p.m. tending to have lower on-time percentages. Some airports drop as low as 64.8% during that time.

Some advice to navigate the airport

In addition to this being a busy travel season, KIRO 7 notes travelers are also having to navigate through all the construction inside the airport which has shut down one of the TSA checkpoints, making lines longer and causing tons of confusion

Sea-Tac Airport spokesperson Peter McGraw told KIRO Newsradio earlier this week that he recommends users check Sea-Tac Airport’s website ahead of time to see what the recommendation is for arriving. A good rule of thumb is to get to the airport two to three hours before the flight is scheduled to depart.

To keep up to date on security waiting times, travelers can download the flySEA app. The app has information about ground transportation, parking, security screening, international travel and more. Head here for a few more tips on getting around Sea-Tac Airport.

More on PNW travel: Why was Sea-Tac Airport so busy last weekend? Will it get worse?

For those people who are heading to the airport, but not to travel, one tip Sullivan brought up during an appearance on KIRO Newsradio’s “The Gee and Ursula Show” Friday was to “think opposite.” The essence of the advice is for drivers who need to do a pickup during a busy period, consider getting people coming in at the departures area and if you need to do a drop off during a busy time, bring those people to the arrivals area.

“It works. It really works,” Sullivan said.

Contributing: Julia Dallas, MyNorthwest; Tom Brock, KIRO Newsradio.

Steve Coogan is the lead editor of MyNorthwest. You can read more of his stories here. Follow Steve on X, or email him here.


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The holiday weekend is here, but traffic still could slow drivers down