Traffic officials estimated that close to half a million Washington, D.C.-area residents hit the road Friday, and every one of them seemed to be on Interstate 95 in Woodbridge by late afternoon.
Gridlock on I-95 set in about 2 p.m. Friday, the traditional kickoff day for summer vacationing and one of the busier travel days of the year.
Despite their best efforts to leave early and avoid the rush, drivers found themselves inching along under a hot sky.
“Only in America,” exclaimed Puerto Rico native Jaime Esteras, in town visiting friends. “We don’t mess with traffic like this where I come from.”
Esteras and his party of 12 were headed to Williamsburg for Memorial Day weekend.
It seemed everyone who pulled into the Dale City rest area off I-95 on Friday afternoon had a story of woe.
It took Luis Barbero two-and-a-half hours to drive from Washington to Woodbridge. He was on his way to Atlanta for the weekend.
Motion sickness was the reason Dan Oliver pulled off the road, but he wasn’t ill his pet cockatoo, Charley, needed the break.
The pair planted themselves at a picnic table late Friday afternoon, where Oliver said they might stay until well after 6 p.m. in hopes the traffic would die down.
“It was just too much of a mess to keep going,” said Oliver, a Falls Church resident headed to Virginia Beach.
An estimated 35.2 million people will be traveling across the United States this weekend, a slight increase from last year, according to AAA.
More than 80 percent about 29.3 million will travel along highways and interstates.
“A lot of cabin fever builds up during the winter and, given the nice weather, the numbers are going to stay strong,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Justin McNaull.
He said Virginia Beach and beaches in Maryland and Delaware are among the more popular destinations in the region.
To avoid traffic, McNaull said, travelers should plan to return to the metro area before 3 p.m. Monday, when gridlock is expected to start.
Although the possibility of speeding seemed impossible in Friday’s traffic, public safety officials warn they will be heavily patrolling the highways over the weekend. Area jurisdictions will staff extra troopers and police officers on the roads to combat aggressive driving, a program called Smooth Operator.
There will also be more safety patrols out on the highways, said Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman Bruce Williams.
Last year, 10 people died in 10 separate crashes over Memorial Day weekend in Virginia. Five of the victims were not wearing seat belts, four fatalities were alcohol-related, and three fatal accidents involved drivers who were speeding, according to VDOT.