Record num­ber to leave area for hol­i­days

Eco­nomic spike spurs 2.4M to roads

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - B Y RYAN M. MCDER­MOTT

The D.C. re­gion will see “an ex­o­dus of bib­li­cal pro­por­tions,” with nearly 2.4 mil­lion peo­ple tak­ing to the roads this hol­i­day — the high­est num­ber on record and a more than 2 per­cent in­crease over last year, ac­cord­ing to AAA Mid-At­lantic spokesman John Townsend.

“On an epic scale, four out of 10 res­i­dents — 43 per­cent of the pop­u­lace — in the Wash­ing­ton metro area will em­bark on long-dis­tance trips dur­ing the Christ­mas and New Year’s hol­i­day,” Mr. Townsend said. “It is a de­camp­ment from the Wash­ing­ton metro area so mas­sive that it may feel like ev­ery­one else in the world is trav­el­ing this Christ­mas.”

Na­tion­ally, hol­i­day traf­fic has risen steadily since its nadir at the end of the 2008 re­ces­sion, with about 85.7 mil­lion trav­el­ers across the coun­try tak­ing to the roads that year. For 2016, AAA projects about 103 mil­lion peo­ple will be trav­el­ing dur­ing the Christ­mas and New Year’s hol­i­day and 94 mil­lion of those will be tak­ing a car.

This is the ninth year in a row that hol­i­day travel — de­fined to be trips longer than 50 miles be­tween Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 — has in­creased. Traf­fic watch­ers at­tribute that uptick to ris­ing wages, an im­prov­ing la­bor mar­ket, in­creased con­sumer con­fi­dence and low gas prices.

The eco­nomic up­turn has a lot to do with the in­crease in travel over the last eight years, Mr. Townsend said.

“Be­cause of the re­ces­sion, we didn’t travel,” he said. “Hol­i­day travel, like leisure travel is al­ways dis­cre­tionary — from your dis­pos­able in­come. It’s all about how much dis­pos­able in­come you have.”

And though gas prices as of Dec. 21 are up slightly from last year on the same day, the av­er­age through­out the year is down com­pared to last year. AAA es­ti­mates driv­ers in the United States have saved more than $27 bil­lion at the gas pumps so far this year com­pared to the same pe­riod last year.

“They’re still some of the best prices we’ve seen in the last decade,” Mr. Townsend said. “And it’s so late in the year that slightly higher gas prices won’t de­ter peo­ple from trav­el­ing.”

The na­tional av­er­age price for a gal­lon of reg­u­lar grade gaso­line is hov­er­ing around $2.25, and the av­er­age price for the D.C.-re­gion comes in at around $2.27.

In July 2008, when travel num­bers were dra­mat­i­cally lower than the pre­vi­ous cou­ple years, gas prices rose as high as $4.10 per gal­lon.

Bro­ken down by mode of trans­porta­tion, an over­whelm­ing num­ber of D.C.area trav­el­ers will be driv­ing to their hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions. About 91 per­cent — or 2.4 mil­lion — of all those trav­el­ing this will be do­ing it by car.

Air travel also is pro­jected to in­crease by about 3 per­cent, with 143,200 trav­el­ers fly­ing com­pared to 138,800 who flew in 2015. Other modes, in­clud­ing trains and busses, will see a slight de­crease. About 96,000 peo­ple in the area will travel by train or bus — a de­crease of 0.3 per­cent from last year, when the num­ber was 96,300.

The lo­cal num­bers track na­tion­ally as well, with a 1.5 per­cent in­crease in au­to­mo­bile travel. About 94 mil­lion driv­ers will take to the road na­tion­ally this hol­i­day com­pared to 92 mil­lion in 2015.

Air travel is ex­pected to see a 2.5 per­cent uptick, with 6 mil­lion trav­el­ers na­tion­ally com­pared to 5.9 per­cent last year. And like the D.C. re­gion, na­tional bus and rail travel is down 0.3 per­cent from 3.52 mil­lion last year to 3.51 mil­lion this year.

The Christ­mas and New Year’s Day hol­i­day travel will more than dou­ble that of Thanks­giv­ing, when about 1.2 mil­lion res­i­dents fled the area. But to put that into per­spec­tive, the Turkey Day ex­o­dus hap­pened over the course of just a few days, com­pared to the 11 days of travel be­tween Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.

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