Leaf-peepers and other travelers returning home after the holiday weekend should expect delays following the massive, 45-mile traffic jam on the Massachusetts Turnpike Friday night.
State officials said they will have enough staff at highway toll plazas to accommodate the heavy return traffic, but cautioned that the sheer volume of people heading home on this popular holiday inevitably will lead to delays. They expect the turnpike and Interstates 93 and 95 in particular to be slow going.
“It’s a very, very popular travel weekend,” said Sara Lavoie, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
But authorities said they have no plans for additional measures after Friday’s Turnpike traffic jam, one of the worst in recent history. Turnpike officials attributed the traffic jam to the long weekend and fall foliage that drew so many travelers onto the Pike, heading to the Berkshires, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
The turnpike will not be waiving tolls or adding more workers to the cash booths at key interchanges, where backups can occur, Lavoie said.
“We also have an adequate staffing plan for Monday and will prioritize to make sure our busiest interchanges are fully staffed,” Lavoie added.
Friday’s logjam was reminiscent of a 7-mile backup at the turnpike’s Route 128 toll plaza on Easter 2009, which caused such a backlash from drivers that the agency’s director at the time, Alan LeBovidge, stepped down soon after. Those delays were caused by understaffed booths and state officials promised to develop plans to avoid such traffic snarls over future holidays.
“We have learned many lessons from Easter ’09,” Lavoie said. “Our cash booths were well staffed on Friday and will be again tomorrow.”
The Massachusetts agency said it will conduct an “after-action review” this coming week and look at the numbers at the toll exchanges to determine if anything needs to be changed for the next major holiday travel period: Thanksgiving.
In the meantime, the agency offered travelers some advice for Monday:Leave early, pack some snacks, and bring your patience. For example, Lavoie was visiting family in New Hampshire this weekend and planned to to be on the road to Boston before 11:30 a.m.
Peak travel times for Monday will stretch from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., so officials advise planning to leave at off-peak hours.
Traffic is predicted to be especially heavy on the Turnpike approaching the Interstate 84 interchange at Exit 9 in Sturbridge, and around the Interstate 495 interchange. Travelers should also expect increased volume on Interstate 93 and Interstate 95 leaving New Hampshire and Maine and on roads leaving Cape Cod, the Department of Transportation said.
At the Hampton Terrace Bed and Breakfast in Lenox, guests were busy Sunday enjoying the Berkshires and were not too anxious about the return drive, said owner Stan Rosen.
But on Friday, several couples called to report that they would be arriving later than expected because they were trapped in traffic. The inn also received calls from people desperately seeking last-minute vacancies, an indicator that more people were visiting the Berkshires this weekend.
“It’s the peak,” Rosen said.
Meanwhile, the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Sturbridge, near Interstate 84 and the Pike, was looking forward to the heavy weekend traffic; business on Columbus Day is usually up 50 percent over a typical Monday, said manager Mark Vinton.
As congestion starts to build up after 5:30 p.m. and drivers become more and more frustrated, many of them decide to get off the highway and go to the restaurant, Vinton said.
“We know it’s coming,” he said.