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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Roads likely to see huge amounts of traffic this Memorial Day weekend

Cars stream by the Nom Nom store on April 19 on North Division Street. Gas prices led inflation higher in August.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer and is one of the busiest of the year for car travel.

Holiday traffic is expected to return near pre-pandemic levels across the state and the country.

“This weekend, Fourth of July and Labor Day we really see those spikes on our roadways because everybody is traveling for the extended weekend,” said Ryan Overton, a spokesman for Washington State Department of Transportation’s eastern region.

Delays are especially bad for traffic leaving and returning to the Seattle area via Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass.

To help motorists plan their trip, WSDOT analysts make travel charts for holiday weekends predicting when the busiest routes will be the most congested.

Data from past Memorial Day weekends shows that the heaviest traffic heading east from North Bend to Cle Elum lasts from about 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and spikes again Saturday morning.

Traffic over the pass was expected to peak at 3,000 vehicles an hour midmorning Saturday. An average Saturday has less than 2,000 vehicles on the road at that time.

The situation is similar heading back to the Seattle area for most of the day Monday.

INRIX, a transportation analytics company, predicted the stretch of interstate from Ellensburg to Seattle would take 3 hours , 20 minutes – about twice as long as normal.

Traffic heading in the opposite direction, from Spokane to Seattle, was expected to match average weekend traffic.

Ramona Mitchell took a break from driving Friday afternoon to enjoy the view of Sprague Lake at a rest stop near Sprague, Washington. She was on her from the Tri-Cities to meet family in Kellogg, Idaho.

“It hasn’t been too bad,” she said. “Kind of the normal weekend traffic.”

Mitchell was meeting her two daughters who were traveling from Seattle.

“It’s always bad for them,” she said. “I don’t usually have problems going to Tri-Cities, but for them going over the pass is awful.”

Manuel Stephen celebrated his wedding anniversary Friday by taking a day trip with his wife from Seattle to Steptoe Butte.

“Normally, we go for a long drive and talk,” he said.

They beat the traffic by leaving early in the morning.

“It was quite reasonable,” he said.

Increased traffic was also expected on Highway 2 over Stevens Pass, and longer wait times at ferry docks and border crossings are typical.

More people traveling with motorhomes and trailers adds to the traffic volume. Once a roadway reaches capacity, any small incident can cause significant backups.

To help with traffic flow, most highway construction work pauses for the long weekend, Overton said.

With the combination of extra traffic from the West Side and the normal workday commute, Overton expected holiday traffic to most impact Spokane heading east on I-90 Friday afternoon into the evening.

“Be patient out there,” Overton said. “Build in the expectation that many more people are traveling with the same idea and it is going to be slower.”

Travelers can use WSDOT’s website, app and social media accounts to track current travel conditions.

Earlier this month, AAA projected 42.3 million Americans would travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend, a 7% increase from 2022 and just shy of the 42.8 million before the pandemic in 2019.

This is expected to be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000, when AAA started tracking holiday travel,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “More Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier, despite inflation. This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports.”

Of those traveling this weekend, 37.1 million will drive to their destinations.

According to AAA, the best times to drive are Thursday and Friday before noon, and Monday before 10 a.m.

AAA predicted Seattle would be the 10th most popular destination in the country this Memorial Day.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.