- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

Record-high gasoline prices are not deterring Washington residents from their annual Memorial Day getaway to the beach, mountains or the islands.

"Both in the Washington area and nationwide, economic uncertainty and high gas prices aren't going to keep travelers from taking their traditional Memorial Day vacations, although bad weather could lower the numbers locally," said Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman.

At a current average of $1.71 per gallon in the Washington area, gasoline costs 14 cents per gallon more than Memorial Day last year and 61 cents more than in 1999.

About 83 percent of Washington residents vacationing during the weekend, or 382,000 people, are expected to drive, AAA Mid-Atlantic reports. Another 76,000 plan to travel by air, train or bus.

Many Washington residents will find short vacations only a few hours drive from home, he said.

"It's a big kickoff for beach people, Bethany, Ocean City," said Guido Adelfio, manager of Bethesda Travel Center travel agency. "I imagine some people will go to the mountains, too."

The Maryland Transportation Authority predicts that about 320,000 vehicles will cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge this weekend. Peak traffic is expected this evening and Monday afternoon, mostly to and from Ocean City and the Delaware beaches.

"If you can possibly go early and stay late, that's the best way to avoid congestion," said Lori Vidil, Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman.

She said this weekend might be particularly congested for drivers because of rain predictions for today and tomorrow.

In Virginia, traffic backups also are likely along routes to Williamsburg, Virginia Beach and mountain vacation spots, such as the Shenandoah National Forest, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

As a safety measure, "We will not have any construction going on during the Memorial Day weekend," said Tamara Neale, Virginia DOT spokeswoman. Although some work zones will be marked, the workers are scheduled to stop work today at noon until Tuesday at noon.

Maryland officials also plan to cease road work from noon today until Tuesday at 9 a.m. and open as many lanes as possible.

As many people will be coming to Washington as leaving for Memorial Day vacation, Mr. Adelfio said.

"Washington is a huge destination for inbound traffic," he said. Attractions for the weekend include the "Rolling Thunder" veterans motorcycle rally, college graduations and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels flying team at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

Fears of a supply crunch ahead of the weekend sent wholesale gasoline prices to record highs this week, increasing the likelihood of $2 a gallon for regular unleaded in many parts of the country.

The concern is a scarcity of the cleaner-burning fuel needed to meet summer air quality requirements.

The most recent inventory data showed dwindling supplies of the reformulated gasoline, or RFG, especially on the East Coast. That sent wholesale prices to a record high of $1.175 per gallon during trading yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

While prices settled at $1.12 by the end of the day, analysts said they would remain volatile into the summer and probably move upward.

An Associated Press survey showed one effect of high gas prices is that more travelers plan to choose alternate travel modes.

The number of people traveling by car on vacations dropped from 55 percent in May 1999 to 47 percent this year, the Associated Press survey this month of 1,008 persons showed. A third of those shifting travel modes choose to go by air. Some canceled their plans altogether.

Airline passengers normally look for specials to traditional vacation hot spots not far from the U.S. border.

"A lot of people use Memorial Day as an excuse for a quick trip to Cancun, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, anything that offers charter weekend trips," Mr. Adelfio said.

Nationally, some 34.2 million people are expected to travel during the Memorial Day weekend, AAA said. Travelers who use alternate travel modes might be making a good choice, according to the association.

"Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the third-deadliest holiday on the roads in terms of drunk driving, with more than 50 percent of highway fatalities involving alcohol," Mr. Anderson said.

• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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