Congestion expected Dec 23-26 on major routes like I-5, I-90 and US 2
OLYMPIA – People preparing for holly jolly festivities this season are urged to plan now for winter weather and expect delays while traveling on state highways, waterways or railways.
One way to help ensure holiday magic isn't dimmed by delays is to "know before you go" by consulting the Washington State Department of Transportation's popular travel charts to determine best times to travel, including times to avoid if possible. The Interstate 5 Canadian border forecast is not included due to unreliable pandemic travel data the last several years. Travel charts are based on 2019 pre-pandemic volumes.
The agency provides several tools to help prepare for winter travels – whether by vehicle, foot or sleigh:
- Look up real-time travel conditions for state highways or ferry routes online using the WSDOT website or track it on the WSDOT mobile app.
- Follow WSDOT's social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook for updates on potential crashes or road closures.
- Pre-program 530 AM and 1610 AM to vehicle radios for highway advisory radio alerts.
- Carry chains and other winter travel essentials.
- Check the WSDOT mountain passes webpage for information on pass updates or the latest chain or traction tire requirements. The Washington State Patrol has more information about traction tire regulations and chain alternatives.
- Leave extra time for holiday and winter travel, slow down, leave extra space between vehicles when driving on snow or ice and watch for bicyclists or those using crosswalks.
- Sign up for area-specific news about road closures or incidents, whether close to home or areas that are part of holiday travel plans.
Cross-state travel and mountain passes
Many people may travel on unfamiliar roads as they venture over the river and through the woods – and over mountain passes – to visit friends and family. Travelers can help keep everyone moving by being prepared for winter weather driving conditions (PDF 2.3MB) and staying alert. Most pass closures, for example, are due to poor driver behavior, such as going too fast for conditions or not having proper winter driving equipment. WSDOT reminds drivers to follow posted chain requirements and slow down on snow and ice (PDF 2.3MB). An online winter travel reminders video has tips on how to check traction tire treads, alternatives to chains and what to carryin vehicles during winter travel.
No construction is planned on most state roads from Friday, Dec. 23 to Monday, Dec. 26 – including on I-90 and Snoqualmie Pass. However, the usual holiday increase in traffic volumes means travelers should expect delays on I-90, especially eastbound on Thursday and Friday and westbound on Monday and Tuesday (see charts for more detail). Text message alerts about significant delays on Snoqualmie Pass are available by texting the words "WSDOT Snoqualmie" to 468311.
"It takes just one reckless person driving too fast, under the influence or not following chain requirements to close a mountain pass for all of us," said Jim Andersen, WSDOT's Winter Program Manager. "Our crews take great pride in their work and do everything in their power to keep roads open – but we need drivers and truckers to do their part and slow down."
Where's the plow?
WSDOT crews work around the clock clearing and treating highways throughout the state. Plow drivers must travel 35 miles per hour or slower to apply deicer or salt and to appropriately clear the roadway of snow. Snowplows also often use "tandem plowing" – staggered plows working together to clear an area more efficiently.
"Just because you can't see a plow doesn't mean our hard-working men and women aren't out there," said James Morin, the agency's maintenance operations branch manager. "Plow trucks typically cover between 40 and 100 miles of roadway each, so if you are not seeing a plow, it is most likely because it is either ahead of you, behind you or on another route."
Several plows have been struck by motorists this winter, which is dangerous for everyone on roadways and also takes the plows off the road during storms. Plow drivers' peripheral vision is limited while moving snow off roadways, so all drivers are reminded to give plows plenty of room to do their work and never pass on the right – or on either side if there's not sufficient room to do so safely.
In the Puget Sound, weekend toll rates will be in effect on Monday, Dec. 26, for the State Route 520 bridge and SR 99 tunnel. The I-405 express toll lanes will be free and open to all drivers on Monday. Out-of-town travelers, including those using rental cars, can learn about toll roads and temporary account payment options on the Good To Go! visitors page.
People boarding a state ferry by vehicle should prepare for long waits. With Christmas and New Year's Day falling on a Sunday this year, the Friday and Saturday before each holiday are expected to be the busiest. Delays are possible in both directions on all routes. Customers can bypass vehicle lines by traveling as a walk-on passenger.
- All riders should double check the sailing schedules as some routes are operating on timetables that are different than prior to the pandemic.
- Visit the Washington State Ferries website for more details on vehicle reservations, ferry email alerts, checking terminal conditions and COVID-19 travel updates.
- Check with local public transit agencies for any holiday schedule or service changes, including some Dial-A-Ride and fixed-route service that may not operate over holidays.
Trains, airports and transit
Travelers making a trip by train, personal aircraft or bus also should plan ahead to avoid holiday delays:
- Amtrak Cascades passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets early and should plan to arrive at the station one hour before departure. Trains are running between Seattle and Eugene, Oregon and between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. Buses also are operating for travel between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia and between Seattle and Bellingham. Visit www.amtrakcascades.com/ or call 800-USA-RAIL for tickets.
- For information about traveling via state-sponsored airports, visit wsdot.wa.gov/travel/aviation/airports-list or email Paul Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
- Check with local public transit agencies for any holiday schedule or service changes, including some Dial-A-Ride and fixed-route service that may not run on holidays.