The worst times to drive around Boston during the Thanksgiving holiday stretch

Experts from AAA and MassDOT weigh in on the best and worst driving times.

Boston Traffic
Vehicles make their way through traffic along Washington Street in Boston. –Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

If your Thanksgiving plans include traveling by car, you can expect to join millions of drivers on the road this year.

“Motorists have become accustomed to this year’s more expensive gas prices and won’t let higher fuel costs deter them from taking Thanksgiving road trips,” said Jeanette Casselano, a gas price expert with AAA.

AAA projects that 48.5 million people will drive to their Thanksgiving destination, a 4.8 percent increase over 2017. Approximately 1 million of those drivers are expected to originate in Massachusetts. 

It’s the highest anticipated travel volume since 2005, the agency noted

For Boston, that means some of the “largest delays” in the country at nearly four times what’s considered typical, a distinction Boston shares with New York City and San Francisco.

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Here’s what you need to know about driving around Boston during the Thanksgiving holiday stretch.

The worst times to drive:

The worst times to travel by car are during the early evening commuting hours, AAA officials said.

The agency predicts Boston’s “worst of the worst” will be between 4 and 6 p.m. Tuesday, based on data provided by INRIX, a company that measures worldwide transportation analytics. AAA predicts I-495 southbound between exits 41 and 33 will be the worst stretch of roadway, and delays there will be be 3 ½ times worse than usual.

Sunday will also be a difficult travel day with most people returning home then, according to AAA.

Google, which put out traffic predictions for the country’s major cities, predicts the worst time to travel around Boston before the holiday is 3 p.m. Wednesday. After the holiday, the company believes 3 p.m. Friday will be the worst.

For those taking I-90/the Massachusetts Turnpike, traffic in Newton was at its worst between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before the holiday and the same times the Monday afterward, according to 2017 data provided by MassDOT. 

The best times to drive:

In general, the best days to drive are Thanksgiving, Friday, or Saturday, according to AAA.

MassDOT data shows this is also true for those planning to take I-90/the Massachusetts Turnpike. In 2017, total Pike traffic in Newton was significantly lower on Thanksgiving compared with other days during the busy travel stretch. Overall Pike traffic on Friday and Saturday last year was also slightly lower than other days during that same period.

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For those who don’t mind getting up early, Google thinks 3 a.m. Wednesday is the best time to travel prior to the holiday, while 4 a.m. on Sunday is the best time afterward.

Google also has charts showing traffic predictions for Wednesday through Sunday, so drivers can pinpoint when they want to leave.

No roadwork and free coffee:

MassDOT will pause road construction at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 21, but officials will also evaluate conditions on Tuesday, Nov. 20, and “make adjustments” to any project schedules based on traffic, a “long-standing policy,” according to Patrick Marvin, a MassDOT spokesman.

“MassDOT encourages customers to make informed decisions on route, timing, and mode of travel, and to plan ahead in order to reach their destinations in a timely manner,” Marvin said in an email. “Before heading out onto the roadways, travelers should check our many travel resources, make informed decisions, and adjust their plans according to traffic conditions.”

For those in need of a little caffeine boost, 18 service stations will serve free coffee from 10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 22, until 5 a.m. Friday.

Live traffic information:

While you’re on the road, you can get up-to-the-minute traffic information from the following sources:

  • Check live traffic maps online at Boston.com/Traffic or Mass511.com.
  • Download traffic apps such as AAAWaze, or GoTime.
  • Call 511 from a cell phone.
  • Tune in to listen to WBZ News Radio 1030.
  • Follow Massachusetts Department of Transportation on Twitter @MassDOT.