This upcoming Memorial Day weekend will kick off the summer travel season, and drivers in the Greater Williamsburg area can expect record amounts of traffic on the highway, along with some delays stemming from ongoing road construction, but also a well-timed dip in gas prices hitting the road this weekend.
More than 43 million Americans will hit the road this holiday weekend, an increase of 1.5 million over last year, with this year expected to see the second-highest numbers of holiday travelers since 2000, behind only 2005.
According to AAA Tidewater, more than 1.2 million people will be on the roads this weekend in Virginia, a 3.6% increase from last year.
“Americans are eagerly anticipating the start of summer, and higher gas prices won’t keep them home this Memorial Day weekend,” said Judy Ocasio, vice president of travel for AAA Tidewater Virginia. “Consumer spending remains strong, helped by solid job and income growth. Families continue to prioritize spending their disposable incomes on travel, and near-record numbers of them are looking forward to doing just that for Memorial Day.”
Global transportation and analytics company INRIX projects that state-wide traffic delays on major roads could be up to three times longer than normal, with traffic in major metro areas like New York or Washington, D.C., could be even worse.
Drivers are encouraged to leave Saturday if possible, with the busiest travel days expected to be Thursday and Friday, as holiday traffic collides with regular commuters leaving work.
“Drivers in the most congested metros should expect much worse conditions than normal,” said Trevor Reed, INRIX transportation analyst. “Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the morning and evening commuting times or plan alternate routes.”
The good news is that gas prices will be slightly below where they were last year, according to AAA Tidewater. While gas prices have increased by more than 30 cents over the past two months, the average price of gas in Hampton Roads and the Greater Williamsburg area is $2.62 per gallon, only slightly higher than the state average at $2.61, and much lower than last year’s average of $2.77 per gallon.
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, motorists leaving or passing through Williamsburg on Interstate 64 may be delayed as a result of the ongoing efforts to widen the highway, work which will continue over the holiday weekend approaching Richmond and in the Hampton Roads areas.
Brittany McBride, VDOT communications specialist, encouraged motorists to check VDOT 511 for updates on travel conditions throughout the weekend.
“We’re lifting as much construction as we can, but some will remain, which with the increased volume in traffic, means there may be delays,” said McBride. “We encourage people to plan ahead, drive safely, and be safe on the roads over the weekend.”
In a release, VDOT said drivers should expect moderate to heavy congestion between noon and 6 p.m. Friday and Monday, and during midday Saturday and Sunday.
For those staying home, there is some good news as well — according to the National Weather Service, Williamsburg can expect a weekend of sunny days with temperatures regularly in the low 90s.
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.