Summer is here and the commuting along Route 128 is about to get easier, right?
Well, yes and no. While the morning commute may soon seem like a relative breeze — and the stress is on the word relative — summer brings its own set of traffic challenges.
The lure of a sunny weekend on Cape Cod or the mountains can jam up 128 just when you are yearning to get out of the office and head for home.
And the warm weather also tends to bring out that bane of every commuter’s existence — road construction crews.
Monica Tibbits is among those who keep a close eye on the Route 128/Interstate 95 artery and its traffic patterns.
“The first week of July is the first week we will see a shift,” said Tibbits, executive director of the Waltham-based 128 Business Council. “It is by no means great, but it does get a little easier.”
So why does the morning commute on 128 become a bit more civilized during the summer?
One big reason, Tibbits said, is schools letting out for the summer. There are fewer parents driving children to school, whether private or public, and fewer teachers and administrators commuting to work, while local colleges and universities go into sleepy, summertime mode.
It is also the start of vacation season for adults, which helps reduce workday traffic along the highway as everyone from accountants to web designers takes a week or two off or days here and there.
Some companies move to more relaxed schedules for the summer, which can mean more employees working from home, or working shorter days, and generally staying out of the office more, Tibbits added.
Yet while that’s all the good news, don’t let the easier morning commute fool you. Summer evenings along 128 can be anything but pleasant, especially later in the week, Tibbits warned.
If the sun is out and you are thinking of getting away to the beach or the mountains, chances are that you’re not the only one.
That can mean long backups along 128 on Friday, Thursday, or even Wednesday evenings, as vacation traffic merges with the regular homebound commute, Tibbits said.
Stretches of Route 128 can start looking like a parking lot not long after lunchtime on days heading up to a summer weekend.
“Sometimes you see it as early as 1 p.m.,” she said. “You are trying to get out of town early, but everyone else is having the same idea.”
The worst backups can be found heading toward the South Shore and the Cape, although heading north on 128 is no picnic either, with the Burlington stretch particularly difficult throughout the year during lunchtime, according to Tibbits.
Figures on highway traffic flow compiled by the state Department of Transportation shed some light on summer patterns.
A look at the busiest days of the year for the Massachusetts Turnpike tollbooths in Weston, at the highway’s interchange with 128, is revealing.
Of the top 20 days, 14 are the Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to DOT records.
So how do you avoid being caught in a miserable summer backup?
If your vacation plans include traveling on 128, it might be worth arranging an early getaway, to avoid the Thursday or Friday evening rush hours, Tibbits recommended.
She leaves two days early, taking her vacation time in larger clumps to make it happen.
“There are not really any alternative routes — at some point you going to have to get on the highway,” Tibbits said. “Leaving Thursday midday is heck of a lot better than leaving Thursday night or Friday.”
Of course, it’s not just vacationers and commuters looking to get out of the office early who can jam up 128.
Overall, the highway is at 130 percent of capacity, handling many more cars and trucks that it was designed for, noted Jack Troast, executive director of the 128 Corporate Alliance.
That means even small disturbances to the flow, such as an accident or roadwork, can trigger backups.
“There is no margin for error,” he said.
Summer is prime time for construction projects, with crews hired to repave, widen, or make other improvements to the highway hustling to take advantage of the good weather.
“Roadwork will continue to be the wild card in the summer,” Troast said.
According to state DOT officials, summertime roadwork projects to factor into travel plans include:
■ New bridges and highway widening: Crews will be working on both sides of the highway as part of the ongoing add-a-lane project between Route 109 in Dedham and Great Plain Avenue in Needham, with a total of seven bridges set to be replaced. The project is 45 percent complete.
■ Highway widening, southbound: Crews will spend the summer paving the lane that is being added to the highway between Westwood and Randolph, wrapping up work by August.Continued...