MassPike construction to pause for Thanksgiving travel rush; heavy traffic still expected | Crain's Boston

MassPike construction to pause for Thanksgiving travel rush; heavy traffic still expected

After initial reports that major construction on the Massachusetts Turnpike could snarl traffic during an already congested holiday travel week, officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation said Monday that road work would pause for the Thanksgiving holiday beginning at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23.

That’s a relief for Massachusetts motorists who feared MassDOT’s in-progress transition to fully electronic tolling could extend into the Thanksgiving week, potentially making the busiest travel day of the year even more of a headache than usual.
 
Massachusetts’ stretch of Interstate Highway 90, also known as the Massachusetts Turnpike or MassPike, did away with cash tolls at the end of October. Since then construction crews have been demolishing tollgates along I-90 to make room for more EZ-Pass readers, now the sole way to pay tolls on the highway in the state. It’s a massive undertaking, and has complicated traffic patterns in the Boston area. So area motorists were relieved when MassDOT updated its Thanksgiving-week construction schedule to clear the way for holiday travel.
 
“We know from past experience that motorists can expect heavy traffic volume on our highways,” said MassDOT Highway Administrator Thomas J. Tinlin.
 
This year is no exception. Some 48.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). That’s an increase of one million travelers, or 1.9 percent, compared with last year. That includes almost one million Massachusetts residents expected to hit the road this week—a 5.1 percent increase over last year.
 
“Most will travel on the tried and true holiday road trip, thanks to gas prices that are holding at close to $2 per gallon,” said AAA CEO Marshall Doney. “Others will fly, take the bus or set off on a cruise to celebrate with their loved ones.”
 
Gasoline prices are averaging $2.16 per gallon in Massachusetts, about three cents higher than the national average, making this the second-cheapest Thanksgiving travel season in terms of gas prices since 2008. Last year was about 11 cents cheaper on average. The uptick in road travel is a sign of continued economic recovery, according to AAA analysts.
 
In Massachusetts, transportation officials are urging the public to plan ahead and take safety precautions during the busy travel week.
 
Motorists evidently listened last time MassDOT advised drivers to plan ahead. Officials said the department observed a decrease in traffic of 6 to 10 percent during the morning commute when EZ Pass construction began, after frequent and widespread public service announcements about the disruption.
 
“Thanksgiving travel has increased each year for the past several years, and I would encourage the public to plan ahead,” said Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack.
 
There are plenty of planning resources to be thankful for. In addition to the traffic tracking app Waze, among others, MassDOT has its own Real-Time Traffic web page for live traffic camera feeds and traffic information, as well as its 511 phone service and website.

If you’re flying check Massport for more information. MBTA will offer additional Silver Line service until 11 p.m. Wednesday, as well as on Saturday and Sunday.

If you’re hitting the road again after dinner, MassDOT is offering free coffee at its 18 service plazas to help late-night drivers avoid dozing off at the wheel. The free coffee is on offer starting Thursday, Nov. 24, at 10 p.m. through 5 a.m. Friday morning.

As for when to travel, Google has crunched the numbers and determined on average the best time to leave is before 6 a.m. the Sunday before Thanksgiving. For the return trip, you should hit the road around 6 a.m. Friday if you want to avoid sitting in traffic. The worst times? Around 3 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving and 4 p.m. on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Road work on the Turnpike will resume Monday morning, so even if you heed all of MassDOT’s and Google’s warnings, your holiday reprieve from traffic likely won’t last long.

November 21, 2016 - 2:48pm