A holiday weekend, combined with the funeral of a police officer and graduation at the Naval Academy, will create a “perfect storm” for traffic this weekend, the Maryland State Highway Administration warns.
More than 41.5 million Americans will travel this weekend, a nearly 5 percent increase over last year, according to AAA.
For the Baltimore region, congestion is expected to be even worse. The viewing for slain Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio shut down a section of Belair Road on Thursday that was expected to be closed until around 10 p.m. For Caprio’s funeral Friday, police said to expect closures along the procession route.
And the Naval Academy’s Commissioning Week, which was expected to bring 6,500 daily visitors to Annapolis this week, concludes Friday with a graduation where President Donald Trump will speak.
Gas prices — which are up about 60 cents over this time last year — aren’t expected to deter travelers over the holiday weekend.
INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects travel delays on major roads that could be up to three times longer than normal, with the busiest days being Thursday and Friday, according to a news release from INRIX.
“The highest gas prices since 2014 won’t keep travelers home this Memorial Day weekend,” Bill Sutherland, senior vice president of AAA Travel and Publishing, said in the release. “A strong economy and growing consumer confidence are giving Americans all the motivation they need to kick off what we expect to be a busy summer travel season with a Memorial Day getaway.”
According to the release, an estimated 36.6 million people will travel by car, an estimated 1 million will travel by air and an estimated 1.8 million will board trains, buses, rails and cruise ships.
This trend appears to hold true locally for some people interviewed at a gas station on Thursday afternoon.
Chris Crawford, of Westminster, said he and his family would be heading out on Friday for the long weekend.
“We go to Lusby, Maryland, every year — Solomons Island,” Crawford said. “For us, it’s just a three-day weekend. It’s a good excuse to get down — we have property down there.”
Crawford said the traffic will “stink,” and gas prices are high, but it’s not deterring their plans.
“It’s just something to live with, I guess,” he added.
Jacob Moore, of Adamstown, also said higher prices and the threat of bad traffic wouldn’t keep him from his holiday weekend plans. Moore will head to Ocean City with friends this year, and plans to leave around 8 p.m. Friday, he said.
“I don’t think traffic will be bad going there, but it’ll be bad going back,” he said.
Moore said he plans to just “tough it out” and deal with the road congestion.
For others, like Terry Barrick, of Westminster, traveling over this weekend doesn’t seem worth it. Barrick, who is a nurse, will be working anyway, she said, but even if she weren’t, she wouldn’t be traveling.
“It’s a mad house with the traffic and it’s backed up,” she added.
Still, she lamented the high gas prices, as she filled up a tank at a Westminster Exxon for her lawn mower.
“It’s going to cost me a fortune,” she said.
This year’s gas prices are the most expensive Memorial Day prices since 2014, according to the release. Gas prices have been going up due to expensive crude oil, record gasoline demand and shrinking global supply, according to the release. The national per-gallon average for regular was $2.96 on Thursday, according to AAA, with Carroll at $2.94 and Maryland slightly higher at $2.97. That state average is up from $2.36 one year ago.
Higher prices also aren’t unusual for this time of year because refineries transition to federally mandated summer-blend gasoline, which is more environmentally friendly, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman John Schofield said this is the first big getaway of the summer travel season.
First and foremost, Schofield said, they advise people to make sure their cars are road-ready and gassed up, because often what causes a lot of the significant delays are car crashes, cars breaking down or getting flat tires, or cars running out of gas.
With all of the factors in the Baltimore region, he said there will be a lot of people on the road. And, he said, the recent bouts of rain and a cold winter are also contributing factors.
“I will anticipate that a lot of people will be trying to get away,” Schofield said.
When leaving, many people tend to stagger their departure times, which will certainly help, he said. But often people all try to return around the same time, which means travel back Monday afternoon and evening will likely involve a lot of traffic, he added.
“There isn’t that phased return home which is why you traditionally see a lot of queuing on the Bay Bridge and the Eastern Shore,” Schofield said.
Schofield also urged people not to try to bail off of U.S. Route 50 in the Kent Island areas and try to find detours through neighborhoods because it is not safe. Kids are playing outside and families are often out walking, he said.
“It turns a neighborhood into a highway,” he added.