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AAA expects increase in travel for July Fourth

Long weekend, lower gas prices boost vacations

By Nick Cafferky, The Baltimore Sun

6:45 PM EDT, June 28, 2012

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More Marylanders will be celebrating July Fourth away from home this year, according to AAA, which is forecasting the steepest increase in travel in more than a decade.

An estimated 846,000 Marylanders will travel at least 50 miles to their destinations, a 5.3 percent increase from last year, and the majority will drive, the organization said Thursday. Because the holiday falls on a Wednesday, AAA projected six days of travel — one more than last year.

Decreasing gas prices are the likely explanation behind the increase in drivers. The price has fallen steadily since it hit $4 per gallon in April and now averages $3.34 a gallon — 25 cents cheaper than it was this time last year.

This is in contrast with July Fourth in 2008, when gas prices were at a peak of $4.05 per gallon and holiday road travel saw a 1.3 percent decline.

The number of Maryland residents taking to the sky is expected to increase by 10.3 percent, the third straight annual increase for the holiday. That will account for 8 percent of all holiday travel.

Because the Fourth arrives midweek, many people will probably use vacation days to lengthen their holiday and travel farther, AAA said. Marylanders plan to log an average of 645 miles round-trip, a 5 percent increase over last year.

"A longer July 4th holiday period for many residents this year, from five days to six, is motivating them to travel further, and thus choosing to fly given the longer distances," Ragina C. Averella, spokeswoman AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in a statement. "Stable airfares are also helping to drive the increase in air travel this year."

The holiday has also spread out the days people head to their destinations, with some leaving as early as Friday and as late as Wednesday. Most traffic will occur this weekend, with 54 percent of traffic of drivers expected to leave between Friday and Sunday.

According to David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, all nonemergency construction on highways will be suspended from Monday through Thursday next week, but AAA warns drivers to expect some delays nonetheless.

"Expect high travel volume on the Bay Bridge and the I-95 corridor," said spokesperson Christine Delise. "We always recommend leaving as early as possible, meaning before 7 a.m., or waiting until after rush hour."

The average Maryland traveler expects to spend $962, a 7 percent decrease from last year, according to a survey of travelers' intentions. Many are scaling back on costlier activities such as shopping and sporting events, AAA said.

ncafferky@baltsun.com