Summer can’t get here soon enough for some Marylanders, it seems, record numbers of whom are looking to get away for the three-day Memorial Day weekend.
AAA Mid-Atlantic travel projections for the state released earlier this week indicate nearly 890,000 residents plan to travel this holiday weekend, which it defines as today through Monday. That’s the seventh straight year of growth and the highest number of Memorial Day weekend travelers since the auto club began tracking holiday travel in 2001.
Trends in leisure travel typically mirror the state of the economy, which has been booming lately. The Republican tax cuts that resulted in more take-home pay for many workers may be influencing the decision to travel as well, despite gas prices that continue to trend upward, and could possibly hit $3 per gallon for unleaded by the time most people set out for their vacation.
According to gasbuddy.com, the average gas price in the Baltimore area was $2.95 per gallon on Wednesday. That’s up about 55 cents from Memorial Day last year.
One way Maryland travelers, particularly those who are headed to Ocean City and the Delaware beaches this weekend, can save some coin, is to sign up for E-Z Pass, a transponder that you can put in your vehicle that allows you to avoid long lines to pay cash at tolls at places like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Baltimore Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels.
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In Maryland, the toll when using E-Z Pass is also discounted by 25 percent, and that increases to 37.5 percent at the Bay Bridge, where an E-Z Pass customer pays $2.50 versus $4 if you pay cash. Previously, there was a cost associated with just having an E-Z Pass in Maryland, but no longer as of Wednesday.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the Maryland Transportation Authority would permanently eliminate the $7.50 fee for the E-Z Pass transponder for all new customers effective immediately. (Customers who bought a transponder in the last calendar year will get a $7.50 credit on their accounts in the coming weeks.) A few years ago, under Hogan’s Toll Roll Back Plan, Maryland eliminated a $1.50 monthy account maintenance fee.
So if, for example, in 2014, you had purchased an E-Z Pass, you would have been paying $18 a year on top of the initial $7.50 for the transponder even if you didn’t use it a single time.
Now, whether you go over the Bay Bridge once a year for a trip to the beach or use the Intercounty Connector (Md. 200) to get to work every day, there is no reason not to have E-Z Pass because it is essentially free. You just need to maintain a balance on your account to cover tolls.
E-Z Pass isn’t just for traveling in Maryland either. If you’re planning a road trip out of state, you can still use your E-Z Pass to bypass long cash toll lanes in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and seven other states.
Customers can purchase an E-Z Pass transponder preloaded with $25 in credit right away, too, if you want to use it immediately for this Memorial Day weekend. Transponders can be found at any Motor Vehicle Administration office — the Westminster MVA is located at 1106 Baltimore Blvd. — or pick one up at many Weis or Giant grocerers. In Carroll County, E-Z Pass transponders are available at Weis stores in Westminster, Eldersburg, Hampstead and Mount Airy, and the Giant in Westminster.
E-Z Pass can help motorists save time and money, and with no pesky fees, there has never been a better time to sign up.