OLYMPIA, Wash. — Planning to travel on Thanksgiving weekend? There's a "good chance" you'll encounter extra traffic with more people gathering in person this holiday, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) warns.
State highways across the state will see higher traffic volumes, especially on Interstate 90 where "lengthy" delays are expected, according to WSDOT.
On Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving, WSDOT expects to see traffic volumes on eastbound I-90 significantly increase starting at 9 a.m. and spiking at 3 p.m. Eastbound traffic picks up again Nov. 27-28.
Ditto for westbound I-90 traffic, which will see higher volumes Nov. 24 and then again Nov. 27-28.
People traveling eastbound on US 2 between Skykomish and Stevens Pass can expect to see traffic begin pick up Nov. 24, with a significant spike in traffic Nov. 26-27. Westbound traffic begins to pick up Nov. 26, with the busiest days being Nov. 27-28.
Sustained heavy traffic is expected on Interstate 5 between Tacoma and Lacey over the weekend. Midday traffic is expected to be the worst for people driving south, with the worst travel day being Nov. 24. Northbound drivers should expect more traffic Nov. 27-28.
There are no charts for I-5 at the Canadian border due to a difficulty in forecasting travel patterns with COVID-19 testing and vaccination requirements.
Along with increased traffic, WSDOT is asking travelers to be prepared for winter travel, especially with staffing issues that may keep the agency from being able to "deliver the same level of service as in years past." Though crews will still be plowing roads through the Cascades, some road or pass closures may last longer and may not get plowed as frequently. In particular, there will be less focus on secondary routes.
WSDOT previously said due to a lack of 24/7 staffing in some areas and during long-lasting storms, response times to crashes and other emergencies may also be slower.
WSDOT staffing issues have been caused by various things like retirements, pandemic-related hiring freezes and the statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which cut the agency’s workforce by about 6%.
Pre-pandemic, WSDOT would have roughly 1,500 people working jobs related to winter operations along with other support staff. As mid-October, WSDOT was down 300 winter operations workers to roughly 1,200.
Forecast for Thanksgiving weekend
It should be a great travel day across the state from the Ocean to Idaho with little or no rain or snow anywhere.
Rain will push into the coast overnight Wednesday into Thursday and into Bellingham by midnight. Along the I-5 corridor, we will see light rain spread up and down the corridor during the morning. Rain will increase in the afternoon and continue Thursday night. It will be a little breezy north of Seattle.
Stevens and Snoqualmie passes may see light snow develop during the morning but in limited quantities. All of the Cascade passes will see increasing rain during the afternoon on Thanksgiving day, and it may become heavy at times.
Eastern Washington will see a rain-snow mix with only limited accumulations north of I-90.
Look for rain showers across the state with mainly wet roads. Snow levels in the mountains will be above highway pass levels.
Saturday and Sunday
Mild and wet across the state. Snow levels stay well above the mountain highway passes.