Making a Stop-and-Go Getaway for Summer

By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 1, 2005

Beachgoing Washingtonians will run into some of the worst summertime bottlenecks in the nation over what is expected to be a record-cracking Independence Day weekend, according to a national report released yesterday.

The survey found that three of the five most congested summer hot spots in the country are prime choices for Washingtonians: The Tidewater area ranked second, the Maryland-Delaware shore was third and the Outer Banks of North Carolina came in fifth.

Other popular destinations such as the New Jersey shore, Cape Cod and the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish country also made the top 10. The Oregon coast topped the list of worst summertime drives.

"Many of us spend the beginning and end of our vacations sitting in congestion that rivals our daily commutes," said Greg Cohen, president and chief executive of the American Highway Users Alliance, one of the sponsors of the study.

Melanie Fett knows that she probably will be one of them this weekend. She's taking the seventh-worst drive in the nation to the Jersey shore to enjoy the beach with friends. At least, they'll be enjoying the beach; she'll be driving.

"It won't be much, like an afternoon," she said of her expected time on the sand. "It's a lot of driving for a little bit of time."

Fett said her strategy is to leave around 7 a.m. Saturday and take back roads through New Jersey in the hopes of missing most of the mess. Still, she pretty much figures it's going to be wretched.

"It's stressful to think about the amount of driving and traffic," the Arlingtonian said.

The Independence Day holiday is expected to anchor a summer travel season like no other. Travel industry experts predict that Americans will take 328 million leisure trips this summer, up 2.3 percent from an all-time high in 2004.

Washingtonians are doing their part. Traffic watchers predicted that never-before-seen numbers of travelers -- more even than over the Thanksgiving holiday -- will flee the area for beaches, mountains and other warm-weather getaways this weekend.

AAA predicted that about 620,000 Washingtonians, or 13 percent, will head out of town. The overwhelming number of those are likely to drive, brushing aside gas prices that average $2.19 a gallon, 26 cents higher than last year.

Nationally, AAA estimated that 40.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more over the weekend, a 2.8 percent increase from the 39.2 million who traveled last year. The local and national results are based on a survey of 1,300 Americans by AAA.

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