Memorial Day travelers to turn out in record numbers despite rising gas prices

rarriaza@vagazette.com

As the upcoming Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer travel season, drivers coming through the Historic Triangle can expect high temperatures, record amounts of traffic and increased gas prices as they hit the road.

After a few days of sunshine this past week, those in town for the holiday can expect temperatures in the mid to high 80s on Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures are expected to cool down slightly Sunday and Monday, with a chance of afternoon showers and thunderstorms.

Motorists trying to beat the heat by travelling out of town may find themselves stuck in traffic, with AAA Tidewater reporting more than 1.1 million Virginians will be on the road. This marks the highest number of Memorial Day drivers in the state since 2005.

This also reflects a 5 percent national rise in holiday travel volume from last year, with more than 41.5 million Americans expected to travel at least 50 miles during the holiday weekend. A majority of Memorial Day travelers are expected to make their trips by car, leading to congestion across the country’s interstates.

“Despite rising gas prices, travelers will be driving to their destination to enjoy Memorial Day weekend,” said Georjeane Blumling, spokesperson for AAA Tidewater. “A strong economy and growing consumer confidence are giving Americans all the motivation they need to kick off what we expect to be a busy summer travel season with a Memorial Day getaway.”

Global transportation and analytics company INRIX projects that state-wide traffic delays on major roads could be up to three times longer than normal. Drivers are encouraged to leave on Saturday if possible, with the busiest travel days expected to be Thursday and Friday, as holiday traffic collides with regular commuters leaving work.

“Drivers should expect congestion across a greater number of days than in previous years, with the getaway period starting on Wednesday, May 23,” said Graham Cookson, chief economist and head of research at INRIX. “Our advice to drivers is to avoid peak commute times in major cities altogether — traveling late morning or early afternoon — or plan alternative routes.”

Drivers shouldn’t expect to find any relief from steadily increasing gas prices either, with Memorial Day gas costs reaching their highest point in four years.

In Virginia, Tuesday’s average price per gallon was $2.73, with prices in Hampton Roads and the Greater Williamsburg area hovering slightly higher at $2.77 per gallon, according to AAA. The national average is $2.93. Last year, gas prices in the area and across the state sat at just more than $2 per gallon.

Blumling cites the cost of crude oil, shrinking global supply and record gas demand as factors contributing to the high cost of gasoline.

The Virginia Department of Transportation aims to alleviate traffic woes by suspending construction work and lifting most lane closures on interstates and major roads from noon Friday until noon Tuesday.

Despite this, Williamsburg motorists will still encounter speed limit reductions to 55 mph in semi-permanent work zones along Interstate 64 where the road is being widened.

In a release, VDOT spokesperson Jenny O’Quinn says drivers should expect moderate to heavy congestion between noon and 6 p.m. Friday and Monday, and during midday on Saturday and Sunday.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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