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Testy Turkey Day travel - by plane, train, or automobile

Posted by Nichole Davis  November 26, 2013 03:27 PM

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It's been long-standing knowledge that one of the worst traffic days of the year is the day before Thanksgiving. Everyone and their mother, dog, and best friend all hit the roads at the same time and clog things up to immense levels. In fact, according to AAA, there are going to be 43.4 million people on the highways nationwide this year -- so you can imagine that a significant portion of those are going to be messing things up here in New England.

In fact, Aaron Kupec, a Public Affairs Manager for AAA, told the Mary Jones Show today that 1.9 million of those travelers nationwide will be from the six New England states. They'll likely be heading out at least 250 miles from home. 90 percent of that 1.9 million will be using an automobile to get to where they have to go, according to the AAA "Thanksgiving Travel Forecast".

However, last year, the timing of the commute started to change up a little bit. Highway Administrator Frank DePaola said, in a statement, that new traffic information shows that, at least on the Pike, the heavier traffic decided to jam up the Pike on Tuesday, not on Wednesday! Apparently the Tuesday before last Thanksgiving ranked up there as the 24th busiest day on the Pike, where the Wednesday before made it to just the 48th. Hmm. DePaola says they're expecting record delays this year both today (Tuesday) and Wednesday, as well as Sunday.
Something that might help throw a wrench into the already-major-mess of a commute that we're looking forward to is a major storm that's on the way. I'm not a meteorologist, but you can check out more at fellow Community Voices blogger Dave Epstein's blog. Conde Nast has put together a great list of bad weather travel tips to keep in mind as you head out, regardless of which method of travel you choose.

Considering these days very few people are without a smartphone, there's lots of apps you can utilize to make sure you've got all the latest in travel info. Take advantage of the flood of information that'll be out there on Facebook, Twitter, and more. Most companies and travel agencies have accounts on some sort of similar platform and will be likely to jump to those first to get significant info out. Some of the best options I've seen include Hopstop, HelpCall, Sigalert*, Waze, Flightview, GasBuddy, ProximiT and more.

Be sure to stay charged! There's lots of great options for portable travel chargers -- even external battery packs you can use in a pinch. Not only will you want this for entertainment (there's nothing quite like spending three hours on a layover in a train station or airport without anything to listen to), you'll need to stay in contact with family and friends. Plus, if you're driving, you'll absolutely want a lifeline in case you get stuck.

Normally with holiday traffic (large storms notwithstanding), we in the operations center often see things die down a lot in the early evening hours of the reportedly heavy day -- except on the Pike, where you can see traffic persist into the late evening. In order to reduce your chances of hitting these intense delays, you might be best off leaving later in the evening (definitely after 7:00, although the DOT says 8:00 will be a better choice). Early morning commuters might fare better as well -- and I'm talking early, as in 5:00 am to 7:00 am. There will be a slight rush hour Wednesday, likely, as not everyone has the day before Turkey Day off.

You can, of course, consider the highways you're going to take and try to find alternates. The Mass Pike is generally going to be a complete mess from Boston to Sturbridge. In fact, as I'm writing this, it's already that way. I would not be surprised if Wednesday gets that messy as well. There's going to be some help, though, with the Pike. The DOT has announced that there will be free tolls at the Allston/Brighton plaza on Wednesday in the 3:00 - 4:00 hour. That's sponsored by Plymouth Rock Assurance.

Speaking of the Expressway will likely continue to be an end to end commute, especially southbound -- pretty much gridlocked from the O'Neill Tunnel to the Braintree Split. 128/95 is going to remain a difficult ride -- keep in mind that the heavy delays are mostly going to center around the major highway interchanges, even though you're going to find slow moving traffic everywhere. These can be found around the 93 cloverleaf in Reading, Route 1 in Peabody, Mass Pike in Weston, 95 in Canton, 24 in Randolph and at the Braintree Split. There's plenty more problems on most highways where that came from -- so, to sum it up, pack your patience.

And, as an FYI -- if you're heading out late on Thanksgiving night to go home (maybe you have to work Friday, or you just don't want to deal with any more idle conversation as the tryptophan sets in), you should know there will be free coffee at all Mass Pike service areas from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM the next morning. Take that, turkey-and-carb-induced sleep!
Now, of course, this is a roads AND rails blog, so let's consider the alternatives. Should you be considering taking the train, you might want to try and snag a seat quickly if your plans involve any Northeast Corridor Amtrak lines. Keep in mind that Amtrak has said in a statement that they've expanded service for the holiday, so hearing that there's limited seating left is saying something. The extra service will last through the nor'easter, though, and into Monday, which will help you getting home.

Of course, if you're averse to using the roads like seemingly everyone else, you could always consider the MBTA. But, keep in mind, service is going to be slightly altered...


All lines will operate on a regular schedule for Wednesday, but for Thanksgiving, all lines will run on a Sunday schedule. Regular schedules go back into place on Friday except for the Green Line, which will be on a Saturday schedule.

I asked MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo why the Green Line is still going to be stuck on a weekend schedule. He tells me that they've found Green Line service isn't used as much as the other three subway lines on the Friday after Thanksgiving because so many college students aren't in town for the long holiday. That's led the T to cut back service for just that extra day.

If you're considering taking the Silver Line to and from Logan Airport, you'll find it to be a bit easier to do so -- the T says they'll be additional service on the route this entire week through Monday!

Commuter Rail

Service on the commuter rail won't change much for Wednesday, as the T says they plan to run a normal schedule on every line. However, on Thanksgiving Day, you'll find some significant changes to the schedule. Several lines won't operate at all that day. Those include the Greenbush, Kingston/Plymouth, Fairmount, and Needham lines. All other lines will be running on a Sunday schedule.

Good news is that on Friday, everything will go back to normal and every line will run on a regular weekday schedule. Looks like Sunday's service will remain a Sunday schedule, so if you're using the commuter rail to get home from the airport or wherever you are heading, keep in mind you will be dealing with a limited number of trains to plan on.


For Wednesday, all buses will run on their normal schedules. Thanksgiving Day will bring a Sunday schedule to all bus lines, except for these lines, which will not be running at all:

CT1, CT2, CT3, 4, 5, 7, 14, 18, 19, 29, 33, 37, 38, 51, 52, 62, 65, 67, 68, 70A, 74, 76, 77A, 79, 84, 85, 92, 114, 121, 131, 132, 170, 210, 212, 217, 221, 245, 325, 326, 351, 352, 354, 411, 424, 424W, 426, 428, 430, 434, 436, 439, 448, 449, 451, 456, 459, 465, 501, 502, 503, 504, 505, 553, 554, 556, 558

Everything goes back to normal on Friday.

Commuter Boat

On Wednesday, you'll start seeing some changes in the schedule. The F1 boats will have additional schedule from Rowes Wharf to Hingham, with extra boats running at 12:30 and 2:30 in the afternoon. There will be no departures after 7:00. There won't be any changes on the F4 boat to and from Charlestown.

On Thanksgiving, both the F1 and F4 lines will not be running. All service will return to normal on Friday for both lines.


All Wednesday service will run on a normal schedule, but for Thanksgiving you'll find a Sunday schedule in place. Typical service returns on Friday.

Travel safely, and have a fantastic Thanksgiving! See you after the holiday.

*Disclosure: I am employed by the company behind Sigalert. I'm also not endorsing any specific app over the other -- simply mentioning from personal experience.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Nichole Davis is a Boston-based traffic reporter and news anchor. She’s been seen and heard on television and radio airwaves across New England since 2003, providing commuters with all the More »

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