Leave early, or leave late: A Western WA Memorial Day weekend travel guide

May 26, 2022, 7:05 AM
memorial day...
Traffic in and out of Seattle on Interstate 5 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Memorial Day is this weekend. I hope you have your plans together.

A glance at the anticipated traffic

I’m going to start with the good news first.  Revive I-5, and most other highway construction, is taking the weekend off. That means no lane reductions or restrictions to get in your way.  The southbound I-5 expansion joint replacement program is only taking five weekends off. This is one of them. U-W graduation, Juneteenth, 4th of July, and Labor Day are the others as the state replaces those 35 joints from I-90 to Spokane Street.

So what can you expect on the roads?  Even with the ridiculously high gas prices, a lot of people are going to head somewhere.

My mantra has always been to leave early, or leave late. You really don’t want to be making your trip in the middle of the day, especially on Friday and Monday, even though some people head out Thursday.  It’s from about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. where we usually find the biggest grind.

Let’s look at I-90, for example. Eastbound between North Bend and Cle Elum usually takes about 2,300 cars an hour during a normal Friday peak. Tomorrow, you can add another 700 cars an hour to that mix. It really won’t calm down until well after 7 p.m.

The return trip on Monday is just as bad or worse, and we all know what that can look like on a non-holiday weekend return.

You can expect about 3,000 cars an hour on that corridor from about 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Trust me. You don’t want to be stuck in Easton with a crowd of drivers racing to get home. If you do, please be prepared for some really bad driving behavior and hot tempers.

And you will see similar action on I-5 between Tacoma to Olympia. Highway 2 between Everett to Leavenworth. And even northbound 5 into Canada.

For the jet-setters

So you’re flying? What can you expect at the airport?

134,000 passengers are expected through Sea-Tac Airport Thursday. Another 137,000 on Friday. Still below Memorial Day 2019, before Covid, but very busy.

My best advice for you is simple: think the opposite. If you are picking someone up, or dropping someone off, use the opposite level of the terminal.  If you’re picking up, go to the departure deck up top. Dropping off, go to arrivals on the lower deck.  I know it can be tough to make your decision because you can’t really see which way is backed up until you get over that rise in the road. Be in a center lane so you can make a change as soon as you see what you’re dealing with.  But plan to go opposite.

What about the ferries?

It will be about what you expect. Long waits, especially Friday and Monday. Be sure to check the holiday schedules before you head out.

A little bit of good news on the ferry system: Three routes are now back to pre-pandemic service levels. Seattle/Bainbridge, Mukilteo/Clinton, and the San Juans are back to where they should be.

A second boat will be added back to the Edmonds/Kingston run when staffing allows.

Speaking of staffing, the ferry service continues to hire staff. The agency is still down about 57 people from what it considers the target staffing levels. The biggest need remains licensed deckhands, like mates and captains.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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Leave early, or leave late: A Western WA Memorial Day weekend travel guide