More than 1 million people who live in and around Washington say they plan to head elsewhere this Memorial Day weekend, the official kickoff of summer, according to AAA, and if you are one of them you might want to pick a time other than Thursday afternoon to hit the road.
John B. Townsend II of AAA Mid-Atlantic says 4:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday is “the worst time” to travel and “the best time to travel will vary from place to place” around the region.
Those headed for beaches in Maryland and Delaware also will find their route snarled by traffic in Annapolis for the U.S. Naval Academy’s annual commissioning week. The formal commissioning is Friday, but thousands of friends and families have been gathered all week for various events.
“Travel delays will mount on major roadways and multiply on escape routes in the Washington metro area, as people heading out of town on vacation find themselves stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams alongside rush-hour commuters who are staying put for the holiday period,” Townsend said.
In all, 1,053,400 people who live in the Washington region told a AAA survey they plan to drive or head to one of the region’s three airports to escape for the holiday weekend.
Townsend said that is a record high number, an increase of more than 300,000 since 2009, when only 748,500 Washington metro area residents traveled during summer’s first holiday weekend. AAA has been tracking Memorial Day travel since 2001. More than 41.5 million Americans will be traveling nationwide this weekend.
“Memorial Day holiday travel volume in the Washington metro area will be 41 percent higher than it was in the region during 2009, which represented the recession-driven low,” Townsend said.
Though gas prices have risen recently, nearly nine out of 10 people from the Washington region say they will drive at least 50 miles from home this Memorial Day, nearly 5 percent more than last year. Another 84,900 Washington area residents will fly, a 7.5 percent increase from 2017. Travel by train, bus, rail and cruise ship will increase by 1 percent, AAA said.
Nationally, 36.6 million said they plan to drive somewhere this weekend, 4.7 percent more than last year. Travel by all modes will increase by 2.4 percent, to 1.8 million passengers. The survey estimated 3.1 million people will travel by air, a nearly 7 percent increase and the fifth year of consecutive air travel volume increases.
The Transportation Security Administration said it expects this weekend will set the stage for a record-breaking summer travel season, with 243 million passengers and crew projected to pass through security checkpoints nationwide between Memorial Day and Labor Day. During that period a year ago, TSA screened more than 239 million passengers and crew, which the agency said included four of the 10 busiest days in its history.
“TSA screens over 2 million passengers on an average day throughout the year and expects to screen over 2.6 million a day during peak periods of the busy summer travel season,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said. “Our officers are committed to ensuring the highest level of security for the traveling public even as passenger volume increases year after year.”