South Sound travelers: The times to avoid heavy holiday traffic

As South Sounders disperse for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, major thoroughfares will have congestion, and possibly stop-and-go traffic at peak times.

“Pretty typically the Thursday and the Sunday are the two heaviest travel days when you have a three-day weekend,” said state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker.

Moderate to heavy traffic will start as early as 6 a.m. Thursday for drivers headed south from Tacoma on Interstate 5. The stretch of freeway between Tacoma and Olympia will be busiest from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

For those headed from Olympia to Tacoma on I-5, the busiest hours are expected to be 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On Sunday, returning travelers can expect the worst traffic headed north to Tacoma to be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Heavy traffic between Tacoma and Olympia is expected from noon to 3 p.m.

Congestion generally is worst between Lacey and Tacoma, Bingham Baker said.

“We can expect to see heavy congestion on I-5 probably all day Sunday,” Bingham Baker said. “A typical summer Sunday can often last from about 3 p.m. in the afternoon to maybe 8 or 9 p.m. at night.”

The summer season of travelers headed south to the beaches and other destinations has started, resulting in routine Sunday backups. A holiday weekend just makes it worse, she said.

Other areas with heavy traffic for the holiday will be on Interstate 90 headed east from North Bend to Cle Elum between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday, and headed west between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday.

U.S. 2 from Stevens Pass to Leavenworth is expected to be bad from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, and northbound I-5 from Bellingham to Canada will be slow going from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday.

Travelers hoping to avoid heavy traffic by catching an Amtrak train should book tickets as soon as possible, the state said, given that they often sell out during holidays.

For shorter trips, Pierce Transit buses will run on a Sunday schedule Friday, and Sound Transit routes will run on a Sunday schedule or not at all (see soundtransit.org or call 888-889-6368).

There will be no Sounder Train service Friday, and the Tacoma Link Light Rail will run on a Sunday schedule.

Officials at Sea-Tac Airport said travelers arriving two hours before their flights should have sufficient time to catch their planes during the holiday weekend.