Labor Day weekend is one of the busiest and dangerous weekends for travel.
Based on new AAA projections based on bookings for flights, hotels, rental cars, and cruises shows Labor Day weekend travel in 2023 is up over last year: domestic bookings are up 4% and international bookings are up 44%.
The top 5 domestic destinations are Seattle, Orlando, Anchorage, New York, and Las Vegas. Seattle tourism has been boosted by the strong demand for Alaska cruises. AAA data shows domestic cruise bookings over Labor Day weekend are up 19% compared to 2022.
And, while Labor Day is a time for family and vacation with family before the school year begins, it is also a time of increased automobile and travel accidents if you don’t take the proper precautions.
During Labor Day weekends, the number of car accidents spikes, and so does the number of on-road injuries and fatalities. The National Safety Council reports that: Around 400 people in the U.S. are killed in car crashes over the Labor Day weekend each year The number of car accidents increases by an estimated 9% over Labor Day weekend. Sadly, that makes Labor Day weekend the second deadliest travel holiday after Thanksgiving.
Consult Holiday Traffic Volume Charts
The attorneys with Althauser Rayan Abbarno encourage travelers to consult the holiday traffic volume charts published by the Washington State Department of Transportation. These charts help determine the best times to travel and times to avoid.
“Know Before You Go” Steps to Follow
By following these WSDOT steps, travelers can plan ahead, avoid unwanted traffic and stress, and have the best ‘last hoorah’ before school starts:
- Get informed about WSDOT’s online tools, including the WSDOT mobile app, traffic cameras and email alerts.
- Visit online traveler information for traffic, weather, ferry schedules and a real-time travel map.
- Follow WSDOT on various social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and X (formerly known as Twitter).
- Identify potential safety rest areas before heading out, to ensure enough breaks to avoid drowsy driving.
- Pre-program vehicle radios to 530 AM and 1610 AM for highway advisory radio alerts – and be alert for other stations listed on notice signs in some areas.
- Have a backup outdoor destination as parks and other outdoor recreation sites tend to fill up quickly on holiday weekends. If a site’s parking is full, never park along road shoulders, as this is unsafe for everyone on the roadway, including emergency response vehicles.
Most highway construction paused
According to WSDOT, most state highway construction work is suspended through the holiday weekend – including Monday, Sept. 4 – to ease congestion. For central Washington travelers, on SR 970 near Teanaway River east of Cle Elum, contractor crews are working on a project to fix roadway erosion that requires around-the-clock single-lane, alternating traffic which is projected to result in delays of up to 3 hours during the Labor Day weekend. To reduce these long delays, WSDOT is restricting westbound traffic on SR 970 to local traffic only starting 7 a.m. Friday, Sept. 1 through 7 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5. Travelers on southbound US 97 headed west from Wenatchee will detour to I-90. Please stay alert for new lane shifts or other work zone staging areas that may remain in place. And please give any emergency repair crews plenty of space to work safely.
No construction is planned on I-90 from Friday, Sept. 1, through to Tuesday, Sept. 5. However, the usual holiday increase in traffic volumes means travelers should expect delays, especially eastbound on Friday and westbound on Monday (see charts for more detail). Text message alerts about significant delays are available by texting the words “WSDOT Snoqualmie” to 468311.
In the Puget Sound region, weekend toll rates will be in effect on Monday, Sept. 4, on the State Route 520 bridge and SR 99 tunnel. The I-405 express toll lanes will be free and open to all drivers on the Monday holiday. Out-of-town travelers, including those using rental cars, can learn about toll roads and temporary account payment options on the Good To Go! visitors page.
People boarding a state ferry by vehicle should prepare for long waits. Peak travel times on most routes are expected to be westbound or island-bound Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, and eastbound or off-island Sunday through Tuesday, Sept. 3-5. Customers can bypass vehicle lines by traveling as a walk-on passenger and usually board much faster.
- All riders should double check the sailing schedules and sign up to receive rider alerts as last-minute delays or canceled sailings are possible based on vessel and crew availability.
- Visit the Washington State Ferries website for more details on making a vehicle reservation for some routes, track the vessels on a real-time map and terminal status.
Trains, airports and transit
Travelers making a trip by train, personal aircraft or bus also should plan ahead to avoid holiday delays:
- Amtrak Cascades passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets early and plan to arrive at the station one hour before departure. Trains are running between Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon, stopping at 18 stations along the way. Buses also are available for travel between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia and between Seattle and Bellingham. Visit AmtrakCascades.com or call 800-USA-RAIL for tickets and schedules.
- For information about traveling via state-sponsored airports, visit our airport list or call 360-788-7437.
- Check with local public transit agencies for any holiday schedule or service changes, including some Dial-A-Ride and fixed-route service that may not run on holidays.
On weekend holidays, state highways across Washington will see higher than usual traffic, especially on Interstate 90, where lengthy delays are expected. Longer than typical wait times at ferry docks also are expected during a holiday that falls on a weekend.
WSDOT crews work hard to ensure travelers reach their destination safely and advise travelers to plan ahead to save time and frustration. Travelers also can use WSDOT’s online tools, the WSDOT app and social media accounts to track current travel conditions.
Please check back in late-August for the current year’s Labor Day weekend travel charts showing when major holiday routes are expected to be the most congested to help plan your travel.