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Seattle holiday traffic and transit: When and how to get around

It’s a holiday weekend, and you and everyone you know will be traveling

Poul Costinsky/Shutterstock

While things are slowing down for the holidays, everyone getting their holiday travel on should be enough to snarl things up a little. Normally, we comb through the alerts and advisories from both the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to deliver transit-friendly solutions for your weekend outings.

This time, since it’s a big holiday weekend, we’re just advising on the available ways to get around. The short version: It could take a while to get where you’re going and the weather could turn on you, so leave plenty of extra time and stay safe out there.

Traffic congestion times

WSDOT’s traffic analysts used historical data to produce the worst travel times for a three-day Christmas weekend like this one. The results shouldn’t be surprising: They’re predicting that on Friday, traffic will be terrible pretty much all day, with the exception of the early morning (before 7 a.m.) and late night (after 9 p.m.), with traffic being especially bad between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Courtesy of WSDOT

Data analytics firm Inrix worked with AAA to find the worst times to travel for the holiday, and good news: Our predicted worst day has already passed. (It was Wednesday, December 20.) They advise that weekday afternoons between 4 and 6 p.m. are the worst times for travel, though, so watch out for that Thursday and Friday.

Public transportation schedules

All Metro buses are free on New Years Eve this year.

King County Metro will be running on Sunday schedules on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years Day—New Years Eve, too, since it’s also a Sunday.

Since the University of Washington is on winter break, Metro is also reducing weekday schedules for routes 31, 32, 73, 75, 167, 197, 271, 277, 331, 372, and 373 through New Years Day.

In addition, December 26 through 29, Metro buses will be running on a “reduced weekday” schedule. That means reduced or canceled trips for several routes, all three digit numbers, and that routes 201, 237, 304, 308, 316, 330, 355, and 930 aren’t running at all.

Sound Transit schedules vary:

  • Seattle Link Light Rail will be on its Sunday schedule for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and extended service, which is similar to weekday service, for New Years Eve and New Years Day.
  • The Sounder train will not be running Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, or New Years Day
  • Sound Transit express bus service depends on the route; more than half are cancelled all four of those holidays, but at the very least, the 545, 554, 574, and 594 will all be running on weekend schedules.

Highway tolls

Christmas Eve is already on a weekend, but weekend toll rates on the State Route 520 bridge will also apply on Monday for Christmas Day. Travel will also be free in the Interstate 405 toll lanes on December 25. On Tuesday, December 26, toll rates return to normal.

Ferry crowds

In addition to some unspecified holiday scheduling changes, WSDOT anticipates that ferries will get way more crowded as people sail home for the holidays or come to the city for holiday festivities. But the agency expects wait times to be at their worst westbound on Friday, December 22 and eastbound on Monday, December 25 and Tuesday, December 26.

Because wintertime is normally a low-capacity season—with the exception of this weekend—some boats are at lower capacity, specifically on the Edmonds to Kingston and Mukilteo to Clinton routes. WSDOT might be adding an extra 8:55 p.m. departure from Clinton and an extra 9:25 p.m. from Mukilteo on Friday, December 22.