1 in 5 to hit road for Thanksgiving holiday
Posted: November 21, 2012
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Family, friends and food will draw more than a million people in the Washington, D.C., metro area away from their homes for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The organization’s projections for the extended weekend, which begins today and continues through Sunday, call for 1,074,500 metro area residents to travel more than 50 miles, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. The figures show a 1.3 percent increase from 1,060,300 travelers in 2011.
The region, which includes Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties, has a population of about 5 million people.
“Essentially, one out of every five persons will be traveling,” said John B. Townsend II, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Though the regional increase is modest, it is still higher than the national average, he said. AAA is projecting 43.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home, which is a 0.7 percent increase over the 43.3 million people who traveled last year.
Most travelers regionally and across the country will drive to their destinations, Townsend said. About 977,600 people, or 90.8 percent of metro-area travelers, will be on the roadways. The number of drivers also saw a rise of 1.3 percent, up from 965,400 in 2011.
For people renting a car, there isn’t a shortage of vehicles available to lease in the area, said Dan Snyder, assistant manager of Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Winchester.
But people wanting to rent in New York or New Jersey who haven’t already made a reservation are probably out of luck, said Jamie Williams, a national sales representative for Enterprise. Cars had to be shipped to those states after most of their inventory was damaged in Hurricane Sandy. Enterprise rentals there for Thanksgiving week have been sold out for several days.
“We also are not doing any one-way rentals from New York and New Jersey. We have to keep that inventory there,” she said.
By contrast, air travel is expected to take a hit with just 74,900 people choosing to fly, down 1.1 percent from 75,800 in 2011, Townsend said. That’s despite the fact that average airfares have fallen 11 percent from last year, making it the quickest and cheapest mode of transport for many people, especially singles.
About 21,900 people are expected to take other modes of transportation such as rail, bus and cruise ship, up 14.5 percent from 19,100 in 2011.
The increase in drivers is interesting considering “gas prices were extremely expensive between July and August,” Townsend said. For a nearly 100-day stretch, they broke daily records. But while they are still high, they have dropped significantly.
In Winchester, the average gas price Tuesday was $3.29 a gallon, compared with $3.53 a month ago and $3.30 at this time last year, according to AAA’s fuel calculator on its website, aaamidatlantic.com.
To help ease the congestion caused by the increased traffic, the Virginia Department of Transportation has suspended lane closures for most maintenance and construction work on interstates and other major highways during the extended travel period, said Shannon Marshall, VDOT spokesperson.
The lane closures, which will be lifted on all but long-term construction zones, will last from noon today to noon Monday, she said.
“We suspend those to help make travel a little bit smoother,” Marshall said.
Some of the congestion also might be eased by the opening of two new high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in each direction on Interstate 495 from the Springfield Interchange at Interstate 95 to north of the Dulles Toll Road, she said. Drivers must have an E-ZPass electronic toll-collection device in their cars to use the 495 Express Lanes.
Travelers are advised to take a few minutes before they leave home to plan a route that has the least congestion, Marshall said. Travelers can access 511 Virginia travel program through its website at 511virginia.org, by phone at 511, or by an app for iPhones and Android phones.
VDOT has also posted detailed maps online showing expected periods of heavy traffic on Virginia’s interstates, she said. The maps, which are at people.virginia.edu/~seb4v/TG/Thanksgiving.html, are based on data from the past three years. To use the map, slide the button along the date bar at the top of the map to update predicted traffic information at half-hour intervals between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. for each day.
The forecast for Thanksgiving weekend is great for the area, with no precipitation expected, said Calvin Meadows, meteorological technician for the National Weather Service in Sterling.
“Thanksgiving itself is going to be nice,” he said. “There will be mild temperatures with highs in the mid-50s, which is normal or slightly above normal for this time of year.”
It will be mostly sunny with daytime highs in the mid-50s today and Thursday, and around 60 by Friday, Meadows said. Temperatures will be in the low to mid-30s at night.
There is a cold front moving through Saturday with temperatures dropping significantly, he said. The daytime high will be in the mid-40s Saturday and Sunday with nightly lows of 26 and 30, respectively.
For more information on local events, go to visitwinchesterva.com/events.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org