Mid-week Fourth to curtail travel

Posted: July 2, 2013

The Winchester Star

Ted Stebbins of Connecticut stopped at the Virginia Welcome Center along Interstate 81 in Clear Brook on Saturday to look at a Virginia map. He was traveling to Tennessee. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Robert Gabriel (left) and Barbara Quirion of Rochester, N.Y., look over Civil War battlefield brochures at the Virginia Welcome Center along Interstate 81 in Clear Brook on Saturday. The couple was heading to the Outer Banks, N.C., but wanted to make some stops in Virginia. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

Winchester — Fourth of July travel is expected to be slightly down this year thanks to a shorter holiday period and the sequester, according to projections by AAA Mid-Atlantic.

About 967,000 people in the Washington, D.C., metro area — including Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties — are expected to travel 50 miles or more at some point during the holiday travel period, which will last five days, said Jeanette Tejeda de Gomez, public affairs specialist for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

That is a 1.8 percent decrease, or a difference of about 17,000 people from last year, she said.

“When a holiday is earlier in the week, people are more likely to leave earlier to go on vacation,” she said. “But when it falls later in the week, they leave later, only taking the day between the holiday and the weekend and maybe the following Monday.”

The decrease in numbers for the metro area is only slightly higher than national projections, she said. An estimated 41 million Americans are expected to journey 50 miles or more from home during the holiday weekend, down 0.8 percent from last year.

Despite the drop, this is the fourth consecutive year that more than 900,000 Washington area travelers will take a trip to celebrate the nation’s birthday, Tejeda de Gomez said. In 2009, only 686,100 local people traveled during the July Fourth travel period.

Economic growth has not been “robust enough” to offset the impact of the sequester, said Mahlon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s managing director of public and government affairs.

 “Between now and September, some government workers will lose nearly 11 days of pay. This will cast a pall over the summer travel period,” he said.

The situation isn’t helped by the price of gas being up slightly compared to last year’s July Fourth travel period, Tejeda de Gomez said.

In Winchester, the average gas price Monday was $3.40, compared with $3.20 this time last year, according to AAA’s fuel calculator on aaamidatlantic.com, under the automotive tab, gas information.

On the road

Driving remains by far the most popular choice as far as mode of travel, but all areas are expected to see a hit, de Gomez said. Experts expect 834,600 people (down 1.7 percent) to reach their destinations by car, 71,800 (down 0.9 percent) by plane, and 60,100 (down 4.3 percent) using other modes of transportation.

In anticipation of higher traffic volume on the roads, the Virginia Department of Transportation will suspend most lane closures on interstates and major roads throughout the state from noon Wednesday through noon Friday, spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said.

“We do expect more travel and that is why we lift lane closures on holidays so we can give motorists as much time as possible to get to their destinations safely,” she said.

Wherever motorists are traveling in the state, they can use the 511 Virginia travel program and the “Reach the Beach” interstate signs in the Hampton Roads region to plan a route that avoids the most congestion, Rollison said. Both programs are designed to give travelers real time traffic information around the state.

Travelers can access 511 Virginia online at 511virginia.org, by phone at 511, or by an app for iPhones and Android phones.

Watching the skies

The weather pattern going into the week looks problematic for people looking forward to fireworks displays, said Calvin Meadows, meteorological technician for the National Weather Service in Sterling.

Fireworks are planned in the area for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

There is a 60 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Wednesday, dropping to 30 percent that night as the evening cools, he said. Thursday’s projections are 50 percent during the day and 40 percent at night, and Friday has a 40 percent chance all day.

The storms are the result of a couple of systems affecting the area, he said. Southerly winds off the East Coast are pumping up warm moist air off the Gulf of Mexico into the area, and there is a nearly stationary front across Maryland and Virginia east of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“There is an upper level low stalled out over the Midwest,” Meadows said. “It is just bringing in packets of energy into the area, so it is acting as a trigger to generate showers and thunderstorms across the area.”

He does not expect the situation to change much over the next week, he said.

Temperatures are expected to stay in the low 80s during the day and the upper 60s to low 70s at night until Saturday and Sunday, which could have highs of 87 and 88, respectively.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com