Mary­lan­ders head for the road this week­end

Low gas prices con­trib­ute to a pro­jected 732,000 hol­i­day trav­el­ers

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Colin Camp­bell

Fol­low­ing a sum­mer of the low­est gas prices in more than a decade, AAA Mid-At­lantic ex­pects about one in ev­ery Mary­lan­ders to hit the road for a La­bor Day week­end get­away.

An es­ti­mated 732,000 peo­ple will head to the beach or the moun­tains or grand­mother’s house for sum­mer’s last hur­rah de­spite a re­cent spike in gas prices, the auto club es­ti­mated, based on av­er­ages from the past two years.

La­bor Day travel tra­di­tion­ally lags be­hind the more pop­u­lar sum­mer va­ca­tion hol­i­days, and this year is no dif­fer­ent, with the pro­jected travel about 9 per­cent less than on Memo­rial Day week­end and 17 per­cent less than for the Fourth of July.

Gas prices, the econ­omy and the time of year come into play when fam­i­lies de­cide whether to skip town for Ocean City or some other va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tion, AAA Mid-At­lantic spokes­woman Rag­ina Cooper Averella said.

Ocean City ex­pects 250,000 to 280,000 vis­i­tors over the hol­i­day week­end, spokes­woman Jes­sica Wa­ters said.

“We’re very op­ti­mistic that we’re go­ing to have an out­stand­ing hol­i­day,” she said.

“When the weather’s beau­ti­ful, peo­ple may de­cide to take a quick get­away,” Cooper Averella said.

She said that be­fore the Na­tional

Weather Ser­vice re­vised its pre­dic­tion for Trop­i­cal Storm Her­mine, cur­rently threat­en­ing Florida’s Gulf Coast. Once ex­pected to track back out to sea over North Carolina, the storm now looks as if it might fol­low In­ter­state 95 up the East Coast, po­ten­tially cover­ing much of Mary­land with a soak­ing rain Satur­day and Sun­day.

Late Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, the storm was about 350 miles off Florida’s pan­han­dle, ex­pected to strike late to­day or early Fri­day. After that, me­te­o­rol­o­gists pre­dict it will cross Ge­or­gia and the Caroli­nas, los­ing some strength and trop­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics as it moves over land but nonethe­less po­ten­tially bring­ing heavy rain to Mary­land by the week­end.

The storm track fore­cast re­mains un­cer­tain, me­te­o­rol­o­gists said.

Gas prices in Mary­land have risen 12 cents in the past month to an av­er­age of $2.23 for a gal­lon of reg­u­lar as of Wed­nes­day, due to in­creased crude oil prices and some re­fin­ery is­sues, Cooper Averella said. De­spite the rise, it re­mains 14 cents less ex­pen­sive than this time last year.

“De­spite the slight bump we’ve seen in prices at the pump re­cently, we’re still on tar­get to pay the low­est La­bor Day gas prices since 2004,” Cooper Averella said.

Prices could fall again to be­low $2 per gal­lon as the sum­mer driv­ing sea­son ends and oil com­pa­nies be­gin sell­ing win­terblend gaso­line, which is cheaper to pro­duce, she said.

As he filled up his tank with $2.25-per­gal­lon gas in Baltimore this week, Danny Levine said he’d no­ticed the price in­crease over the last month. But Levine, 28, of Fed­eral Hill said he does his best to keep the Ocean City is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for the last week­end of the sum­mer, with 250,00 to 280,000 vis­i­tors ex­pected over the hol­i­day week­end. price fluc­tu­a­tions in per­spec­tive.

“I still have flash­backs of when it was four-and-a-half-dol­lars a gal­lon,” he said.

Hit­ting the beach to catch the last rays of sum­mer isn’t his pri­or­ity over La­bor Day any­way — he has mul­ti­ple fan­tasy foot­ball drafts this week­end.

Jeff Thomp­son, 31, said he doesn’t re­ally think of La­bor Day as a travel week­end.

If he and his wife did take their 2-year-old boy and 6-month-old girl on a trip for the week­end, he’d be ex­pect­ing traf­fic, though.

“Ev­ery­one else is trav­el­ing to the places we’d be trav­el­ing to,” Thomp­son said.

Thomp­son said his fam­ily is more likely to spend the hol­i­day week­end at back­yard bar­be­cues and back-to-school events in their South­west Baltimore neigh­bor­hood. Go­ing away for a hol­i­day week­end just a week or two after the first day of school can be com­pli­cated for par­ents work­ing to get their kids back into an aca­demic men­tal­ity, he said.

“It’s hard to get them into a rhythm and then break them out of it for a cou­ple of days for La­bor Day,” Thomp­son said.

Start­ing school after the hol­i­day is prefer­able, so fam­i­lies could get away and come back fresh, he said.

He might get his wish. At a news con­fer­ence on the Ocean City board­walk Wed­nes­day, Gov. Larry Ho­gan and Comp­trol­ler Peter Fran­chot an­nounced an ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­quir­ing pub­lic schools to start the school year after La­bor Day.

“Ev­ery­body’s back to school al­ready,” Levine said. “It used to be the end of sum­mer. Now it’s just a long week­end.”

Steve Wil­liams, 31, of Butch­ers Hill is head­ing to Long Is­land with his girl­friend to visit his brother and sis­ter-in-law for the week­end.

They won’t be hit­ting the road though; they’re tak­ing the train.

“Be­cause I imag­ine traf­fic will suck,” said Wil­liams, who usu­ally goes out of town for the long week­end, ei­ther to his brother’s in New York or to his par­ents’ home in Colum­bus, Ohio.

The Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Author­ity ex­pects heavy traf­fic at its toll fa­cil­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly the Bay Bridge. It is rec­om­mend­ing that peo­ple aim to travel to and from the East­ern Shore at off-peak times, which it de­scribed as be­fore 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m. on Fri­day and Sun­day and be­fore 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Satur­day.

Mar­ion Les­niewski, 48, a car­pen­ter who lives in Can­ton, said he ex­pects to spend the week­end in Baltimore with his three grand­sons, ages 1, 3 and 6 years old.

Les­niewski said he’s trav­eled to Florida twice over the sum­mer and spent plenty of time at the beach. “We’re go­ing to take it easy, en­joy some good food,” he said.

If he goes any­where this week­end, it might be a half-hour drive to Gun­pow­der Falls State Park’s Ham­mer­man Area Beach in Mid­dle River, he said.

Larry Stone, 70, of Har­bor Court will drive 156 miles with his wife to the cou­ple’s house on the New Jer­sey shore. Stone, who de­scribed him­self as semire­tired, said gas prices and the hol­i­day week­end didn’t have much bear­ing on the de­ci­sion to drive up. “We go up there all the time.”

Skip Brinkman, 68, splits his time be­tween Baltimore and Crys­tal River, Fla., spend­ing the sum­mer in Mary­land and the win­ter in Florida.

He’d also rather not deal with thou­sands of other Mary­lan­ders on the road this week­end. “I’m re­tired, so ev­ery day is a hol­i­day,” he said. “I can go any­time.”

CAITLIN FAW/BALTIMORE SUN

Ocean City is likely to draw a crowd over La­bor Day week­end, and the roads there are likely to be just as crowded.

CAITLIN FAW/BALTIMORE SUN

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