HAGERSTOWN —With nearly 900,000 Maryland residents expected to drive 50 miles or more for this Thanksgiving holiday, travelers might have to face heavy traffic en route to their destination.
For many area residents the solution is simple: travel when there is not a lot of traffic.
“I travel at the time it’s convenient for me,” Hagerstown resident Dennis King, 61, who plans on having Thanksgiving Day dinner in Silver Spring, Md., with his son. “It doesn’t seem to be any different on Thanksgiving Day than a normal weekend day.”
The total number of anticipated Maryland travelers for the Thanksgiving holiday period only increased slightly this year, according to an AAA press release. A total of 882,700 are projected to travel, a 0.4 percent increase from last year.
The holiday period is defined as Wednesday through Sunday.
“Even though we’ve seen a steady increase in holiday travel since 2008, many Americans still remain unemployed or under financial stress,” AAA Public and Government Affairs Manager Ragina Averella said. “We actually have a slight decrease in travel by air.”
Approximately 61,600 travelers are expected to travel by air, a 1.9 percent decrease from last year, and about 18,000 are expected to travel by other modes, including bus, train, and watercraft. That is a 13.5 percent increase from last year, according to AAA.
The majority of travelers by automobile are expected to leave Wednesday and return Sunday, according to Averella.
“We advise motorists to plan to leave early and make sure their car is road-ready,” she said. “Traffic is usually heavy on I-95 both ways, and it’s not just Marylanders traveling through there.”
To avoid the traffic, some travelers talked about changing their routes to get to where they are going.
Matthew Oliver, who is in the Army and stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., is visiting his family in Martinsburg, W.Va., this week, and they will be driving to Gloucester, Va., Wednesday for Thanksgiving. Major roadways to get there include I-81, I-66, and I-95, but Oliver, 39, could go a different way.
“We could go 81 to 17 (U.S. 17) or 66,” he said. “It depends on when you leave. You have to time it and know the places that get congested.”
Residents who are not traveling far may still want to avoid major travel roadways during the holiday season.
Desirae Hite, 22, of Martinsburg, will be visiting her grandmother in Inwood, W. Va. for Thanksgiving but will not be using I-81 or U.S. 11.
“We take lots of back roads and try to avoid the interstate as much as possible,” she said. “Route 45 (W.Va. 45) is definitely a back road that we take.”
Assisting those driving long distances by automobile, the national average for regular grade gas Tuesday was down to $3.41 per gallon from $3.44 a week ago and $3.67 a month ago, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. It was at $3.40 in Maryland.
Wallace Clifton, 70, stopped at the Sheetz station on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown Tuesday to fill up his vehicle before continuing on his trip to Rayland, Ohio, from Hollywood, Md., for Thanksgiving. He is avoiding traffic by traveling before the holiday period.
“We leave early, and traffic is not bad on the interstate,” he said. “To avoid traffic, don’t travel Wednesday or Sunday.”
The Maryland State Highway Administration is also taking steps to accommodate Thanksgiving travelers, including suspending non-emergency roadwork between today at 9 a.m. and Monday morning. Emergency response units also will be placed on the interstates to assist stranded motorists, according to an emailed release from the SHA.