Nearly 1 million Marylanders expected to travel for Thanksgiving holiday

Nearly a million Marylanders are expected to travel for Thanksgiving.

Nancy Jones watched happily as the recent decline in gasoline prices helped take the financial sting out of her daily commute from West Baltimore to Turner Station.

The 49-year-old health aide will feel a similar relief at the pump when she fills up next week before hitting the road for New York to spend Thanksgiving with her family.

"It's a big difference," she said of gas costs. "It gives me some extra money to spend, makes me want to go even more."

With gas prices at their lowest level since the recession, more Marylanders are expected to hit the road this long Thanksgiving holiday than in any of the past seven years. AAA Mid-Atlantic projected Thursday that about 983,000 Marylanders — nearly one in every five — will travel 50 miles or more between Wednesday, Nov. 26, and Sunday, Nov. 30.

That's more than in every year since 2007 and up 3.2 percent from last year.

Nationally, an estimated 46.3 million Americans are expected to travel, an increase of about 4.2 percent over last year, said AAA, a national driver advocacy group.

"The nation's overall economic picture is brighter than it was this time last year, helping to fuel consumer confidence and drive the increase in travel," said AAA spokeswoman Ragina Cooper Averella in a statement. "Improvements in several key economic factors, including employment, [gross domestic product] and disposable income, are motivating consumers to open up their wallets and get away for the holiday."

The price at the pump is certainly a factor, Cooper Averella said, helping "to boost disposable income, thus enabling families to carve out more money from household budgets."

Maryland's average gas price on Thursday stood at $2.87 per gallon, 44 cents below this time last year. The national average was $2.85, 36 cents below last year and the lowest for this time of year since 2009, as the nation was just emerging from the worst recession in decades, AAA said.

Paul Kemp won't be among the traveling Marylanders. He doesn't buy that lower gas prices are making much of a difference for most households.

"It takes more of a substantial decrease to make a difference in your weekly budget," said Kemp, a Carroll County resident who works in construction and has to drive to jobs. "It makes everyone feel good when they talk about it in the news, but 5 cents, 10 cents, 15 cents a gallon doesn't really add up."

Kemp was at a job in Baltimore on Thursday. On Monday, he'll drive to Hunt Valley for another. But on Thanksgiving, he'll be at home, he said — leaving the traffic for others.

More than 90 percent of Maryland travelers will head out on the roads, while about 7.4 percent will fly, AAA predicted.

The Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the state's tolling facilities, is expecting about 2.6 million travelers from Maryland and elsewhere to pass through its facilities between Tuesday, Nov. 25, and Sunday, Nov. 30 — a 1 percent increase over last year.

The MdTA expects more than 726,000 vehicles to pass through the Fort McHenry Tunnel, more than 428,000 vehicles to pass over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and a combined 846,000 vehicles to move through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and cross the Francis Scott Key, Thomas J. Hatem Memorial and Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial bridges.

Based on traffic volumes from previous Thanksgiving holidays, the busiest time for travel will be the Wednesday before the holiday, with high volumes also expected Tuesday.

The best times for travel will be before 6 a.m. and after 11 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, and before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the MdTA predicted.

Amtrak said it expects an increase over last Thanksgiving's holiday passenger count of 754,000, and both it and the Maryland Transit Administration are urging passengers to check rail schedules for changes and to plan early.

Some Amtrak and MARC services will be on special schedules.

Officials at BWI Marshall Airport said they expect a modest increase in traffic this year over last — with Sunday being the busiest.

"Thanksgiving is like the Super Bowl for airports," said Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman, but the airport is prepared for large crowds.

Benet Wilson, a Towson writer who covers the airline industry on her AviationQueen.com blog, said although she's a frequent flier, she decided long ago to sit Thanksgiving out.

"You have that compressed time from Wednesday to Sunday and everybody is trying to get out, and the airlines always overbook — because that's what they do — and then something always goes wrong, a storm or something," she said. "I don't have the time or the patience for it anymore."

Instead, her parents are flying from Texas for a Wednesday-to-Sunday visit with Wilson and her 9-year-old daughter, she said. They'll be using BWI, which does a better job than some airports, Wilson said, and they hopefully won't have to deal with any surprises.

Forecasters predict quiet weather in the Mid-Atlantic for the holiday, though next week is expected to start with rain. There is a chance of a weak low-pressure system forming over the Carolinas around the middle of the week, said Rich Foot, founder of local meteorology website Foot's Forecast, but the risk of it turning into something messy is low for now.

"It looks like by Wednesday afternoon things will be clearing out," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.

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