Increased Memorial Day weekend traffic eyed
STEVENSVILLE — AAA MidAtlantic projects nearly 834,0000 Marylanders will travel this Memorial Day holiday weekend, a 2.3 percent increase compared to 2016, and the highest figure for the holiday since 2005, mirroring the nationwide trend for Memorial Day travel. The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 25 to Monday, May 29.
This year’s forecast also reflects the sixth consecutive year of growth since 2012, after holiday travel declined very slightly in 2011, and when May gas prices had peaked to $4.00 per gallon in Maryland. For the third consecutive year, Maryland’s travel volume is expected to exceed 800,000.
“Our forecast shows that Marylanders are joining Americans across the country in planning a getaway for the Memorial Day holiday weekend in record numbers not seen since 2005,” said Ragina Cooper Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Increases in personal income and falling unemployment rates have led to strong growth in consumer spending, as well as a high level of consumer optimism. These are the driving factors motivating Marylanders to open up their wallets to spend on a holiday trip.”
AAA Mid-Atlantic, transportation and safety officials, as well as law enforcement, were joined by Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan Turesday morning, May 23, at Hemingway’s Restaurant in Stevensville, at the southern base of the Bay Bridge, to kick off the unofficial start to the summer vacation season with travel projections and traffic safety initiatives.
“Ocean City is excited to kick off the summer season and the Memorial Holiday Weekend,” said Meehan. “Our summer is full of free family fun, every day of the week, including exciting signature events like the 10th Annual Air Show. Despite all of the excitement, safety is always our number one priority. We want our visitors to arrive in Ocean City safely, stay safe while you’re here and return home safely. Remember to Walk Smart, using crosswalks and crossing with the pedestrian signal.”
Nearly 744,000 Marylanders intend to drive to their destination, a 2.1 percent increase over last year’s holiday. Residents taking to the roads represent the largest share (88 percent) of overall travelers.
“As is typical with holiday weekend getaways, the majority of travelers will drive to their destination,” Averella said. “For those travelers, driving consistently remains a more affordable and often convenient option, particularly those with family and pets in tow.”
The strong growth in travel by auto comes despite gas prices that are higher than last year. “Maryland’s gas prices had been on the decline over the past month and while there was hope that prices would continue declining to a level lower than year ago prices, it appears the trend has halted,” said Averella. “Gas prices have been creeping upward over the last week, although the slight uptick, prices remain lower than last month’s prices and are only pennies higher than 2016 prices.”
As of Monday, May 22, Maryland’s average price was $2.33 per gallon, which reflects a three cents increase from last week but an eight cents decrease from last month’s price. The price difference compared to last year’s price is narrowing with the state average only four cents higher than the 2016 average price on May 22.
Last year, Marylanders paid an average $2.32 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline on Memorial Day and an even higher price in 2015, an average of $2.69.
As the roads will be packed this Memorial Day holiday weekend, AAA recommends travelers avoid traveling through major cities during peak travel times to minimize encountering traffic congestion. “The best time to leave will be in the early mornings because the roads should be less crowded, and you will have more time to get to your destination safely,” Averella said.
The increase in air travel is outpacing overall Memorial Day weekend travel growth, as over 5 percent more State residents, over 65,000, intend to fly to their destination compared to 2016. This is the second consecutive year this mode of travel has increased after several years of declines.
“This year’s significant growth in air travel is a testament to consumers’ confidence to spend on travel, despite this year’s higher airfares,” said Averella.
According to AAA’s Travel Leisure Index, average airfares for the top 40 domestic flight routes will be nine percent higher this Memorial Day, with an average round trip ticket landing at $181.
Marylanders are also choosing other modes of transportation, including train, bus, or watercraft, reflecting an increase of 1.4 percent compared to the 2016 holiday, although these residents represent only three percent of holiday travelers, nearly 25,000.
“Historically, travel by other modes represents the smallest piece of the travel pie in Maryland, as well as nationwide,” commented Averella. “It seems many travelers value the convenience and low cost of auto travel or the short travel times offered by air travel that other transportation modes do not necessarily provide.”
The Maryland State Police and the Maryland Transportation Authority Police will be out in full force patrolling the State’s highways for the Memorial Day holiday weekend and are urging motorists to take responsibility while driving to keep themselves, their passengers and others on the road safe.
“State Police will be on high alert this upcoming holiday weekend to focus on removing dangerous drivers from our highways,” said Lieutenant Colonel Frank Lioi, chief of the Maryland State Police Field Operations Bureau. “If you are driving this weekend, and most people will be at some point, it is your obligation to make traffic safety a priority. Avoid drunk and distracted driving to help reduce injuries and fatalities across our state.”
As the weekend often involves barbecues and gatherings in which alcohol is served, law enforcement and safety advocates are also reminding motorists not to drink and drive and to report drunk drivers.
“The summer months are some of the deadliest times of the year for traffic crashes and weekends are the deadliest time of the week for crashes,” said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of the Maryland nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program, a 35-year-old public-private partnership combating drunk driving. “This summer, Maryland motorists are asked to not only report suspected drunk drivers by safely dialing 911 but also to buckle-up. The wearing of a seatbelt may be your best defense against a drunk driver.”
Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan told Marylanders to use their vacation days to travel to the beach not just this Memorial Day weekend, but throughout the summer, during a press conference at Hemingway’s Restaurant on Tuesday, May 23.