Nearly 800,000 Marylanders are expected to travel for the July 4th holiday weekend, about a 1 percent drop from last year, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Of that total, 86 percent of those polled said they would be traveling by car, 8 percent are flying and 6 percent are taking the train or a bus.
This will be the first holiday motorists will encounter higher tolls on the state's bridges, tunnels and on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore. They also will pay a higher tax on gasoline — almost four cents a gallon — effective July 1, said AAA spokeswoman Ragina Cooper Averella.
The toll hikes are the second of two steps authorized in 2011 to pay for rehabilitating the Maryland Transportation Authority's bridges, tunnels and highways. The new cash toll rates for two-axle vehicles are: $4 for the Key Bridge and Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels; $8 for I-95 (the JFK Highway) and the U.S. 40 Hatem Bridge; and $6 for the Bay Bridge and the Route 301 Nice Bridge. Maryland E-Z Pass customers receive a 10 percent discount from the cash toll rate.
The auto club blamed the expected slight travel decline on a shortened holiday window, since July 4 falls on a Thursday rather than a Wednesday, as it did last year. For the purposes of polling, the Independence Day holiday is defined as Wednesday, July 3 to Sunday, July 7.
Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said traffic volume most likely will mimic the peaks and valleys around Thanksgiving, also a Thursday holiday.
"It's not just going to start on July 4. It's going to start building on Tuesday and Wednesday because there's a lot going on in Ocean City during that time," he said. "We're telling people to leave early and stay late."
The agency will lift temporary construction lane closures and will activate its Eastern Shore operations center to monitor routes and quickly clear disabled vehicles and debris, Gischlar said.
Averella said the Maryland travel forecast is consistent with the national picture, combining "the calendar effect of one less day in the holiday period and economic growth that is still not quite robust enough to offset the impact of the sequester and the effect of the end of the payroll tax cut on American families," Averella said.
While the average price for a gallon of gasoline is three cents lower than a month ago, it is 14 cents higher than last year at this time. Maryland's average price is approximately $3.49 per gallon for regular self-serve compared to $3.35 a year ago.
"Despite higher prices compared to last year, driving remains the more affordable option for many travelers, especially those traveling as a family," Averella said.
Marylanders are expected to stay closer to home this year and spend about $718, a 25 percent drop from last year, the AAA survey said.
"It appears that Marylanders plan to watch their discretionary spending, with only 12 percent of their budget going to shopping and another 9 percent to entertainment and recreation," Averella said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun