Travel likely to be down over July Fourth weekend

But nearly 800,000 area residents expected to jam roads

High gas prices will mean fewer people traveling by car this Independence Day weekend, according to travel estimates released Monday, but steep charges at the pump don’t mean that highways won’t still be jammed.

AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts that 913,000 D.C.-area residents will travel this weekend — a 1.8 percent drop from last year’s figures.

About 86 percent of travelers are projected to go by car — about 3 percent fewer than the 807,000 on wheels last year. But AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson warned that “even though we’re seeing a decline, roads are going to be swamped.”

“If you add an extra 784,000 cars to highways for the holiday getaway,” he said, “you won’t have the road to yourself.”

Despite gas prices that have been falling in recent weeks, some motorists are expected to be deterred by per-gallon averages well above what they were at this time last year. According to numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average weekly price of standard gasoline last week was $3.72 per gallon, nearly $1 more than the similar time frame in 2010.

Higher gas prices haven’t always led to forecasts of fewer motorists, though.

Projections earlier this year indicated about 6,000 more drivers would hit the road for Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff to summer. Gas prices in May averaged $3.93 per gallon, about $1.10 more than pre-Memorial Day numbers last year.

Mr. Anderson admitted that the irregular reaction of drivers to high gas prices surprised him.

But “the fact is, high gas prices have gotten so much publicity, and even though gas prices have been dropping pretty steadily, it’s still about 80 cents higher than last year,” he said.

Independence Day travel on a national scale is expected to drop from 40 million trips to 39 million trips, and the number of drivers across the country is projected to drop from 33.7 million to 32.8 million, according to AAA.

The number of people traveling by plane, however, has increased on the local and national levels.

AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts that more than 72,000 D.C.-area residents will take to the skies this weekend, compared with only 59,000 last year, a 22 percent increase.

Nationally, about 3 million people are expected to fly to their destination, something that Mr. Anderson said could depend on what day the holiday falls and whether travelers have more time to spend getting to and from their vacation spot.

While close to 1 million Washington-area residents are heading out of town, Mr. Anderson said that those who remain in the city can expect to be “swamped by tourists,” who are eager to take advantage of the world-class — and free — museums.

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