1 million in region plan to travel during Thanksgiving weekend

More than a million people from the Washington region plan to travel during the Thanksgiving weekend, slightly more than a year ago, according to the annual survey done by the AAA.

Most of the travelers plan to drive somewhere, but 74,500 said they would head for airports to catch a flight, a 7 percent increase over the number who flew last Thanksgiving.

The amount of people who told AAA that they planned to drive more than 50 miles from home increased by almost 4 percent, despite higher prices at the gas pump.

“The cost of fuel is not expected to significantly influence travel this Thanksgiving,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA. “The fact that gas prices, which reached a 2011 peak in May, are 60 cents higher than they were last year will be slightly offset by the recent trend of declining prices. The price for regular unleaded gasoline in the Washington metro area has averaged $3.41 per gallon in the last week, more than 50 cents higher than the $2.87 area travelers paid one year ago.”

Townsend attributed the uptick in planned travel to pent-up desire that developed during the recession.

“After being stuck at home for three years, stressed and strained by their financial woes, Washington area residents are finally leaving the city to spend time with their family and friends this upcoming holiday,” he said.

The Thanksgiving weekend traditionally has been the busiest four-day travel period of the year. Nationally, the AAA survey indicates that 42.5 million people plan to travel, 2.5 million more than last year. The 3.4 million who fly will find airline ticket prices about 20 percent higher than last year, an increase caused by rising fuel prices and greater demand.

Washington area drivers seeking to get out of town or return home in the crush of traffic Sunday will get an assist from the Virginia Department of Transportation, which is offering online maps that reflect peak travel times during last year’s holiday. In keeping with tradition, VDOT has suspended all lane closures in construction zones from Wednesday through noon Nov. 28. Maryland plans to lift such closures from Wednesday through 9 a.m. Nov. 29.

The Maryland Transportation Authority said it expects 2.8 million travelers on state highways, bridges and tunnels, and the agency issued a reminder of recent toll increases. Officials expect almost 466,000 vehicles to cross the Bay Bridge between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the following Sunday.

Maryland officials also said traffic might be heavy on the new Intercounty Connector. The final section linking Shady Grove with Laurel opens Tuesday, and drivers will be able to travel the length of the toll road for no charge through Dec. 4.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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