- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

More than a half-million Washington-area residents are going out of town this weekend, according to the AAA, which estimates Fourth of July travel will be at its highest level in at least nine years.

The automobile association said that nationally, 37.4 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more over the weekend, up nearly 2 percent from 36.8 million last year. That is AAA’s highest estimate for the Independence Day weekend since it started using its current method of projecting travel numbers.

About 560,000 of them come from the Washington area. The bulk of them, or about 500,000, will drive. Most of the rest are flying.

“Our polling is indicating there is a slight drop in air travel and an increase in travel by car,” said Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman.

The AAA estimates air travel nationally will drop 2 percent to 4.3 million because of lingering economic and terrorism concerns.

A slightly greater percentage of Washington-area travelers are driving than the national rate, Mr. Anderson said.

“We’ve got a weakened economy and travel by car is generally less expensive than travel by air for a family,” he said.

War with Iraq is a contributing issue, he added.

“There’s also a feeling we need to stay closer to home in case something happens and we need to get back home,” Mr. Anderson said. “Washington has been even more of a pressure cooker, being the seat of government.”

Washington motorists will pay an average of $1.50 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline, which is 3 cents less than during the Memorial Day weekend, but 10 cents higher than a year ago.

Rain, so persistent in recent weeks, is expected to diminish. But it is expected to be replaced by hot, humid days with temperatures in the low to mid-90s through Sunday.

The festivities are likely to be marred by tragedy for some of the motorists. The National Coalition Against Drunk Driving is warning that this holiday weekend will end in traffic deaths for up to 560 persons across the country, about 300 of them involving drunken drivers.

The estimate is based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures showing increases in traffic deaths during each of the past three Fourth of July holidays.

State troopers are being called up in force for the long weekend.

In Maryland, troopers plan to use “stealth” by waiting in roadside work trucks or other unmarked vehicles to watch for speeders and aggressive drivers. They will radio reports of traffic infractions to patrol officers to stop and ticket violators.

“That’s our main goal, to get people to slow down and drive safely,” said Lt. Bud Frank, Maryland State Police spokesman.

In Virginia, troopers will be using their CARE project, which stands for Combined Accident Reduction Effort.

“We beef up our patrols on interstate highways and primary roads in Virginia,” said Sgt. David Chewning, Virginia State Police spokesman. “Our emphasis is primarily on aggressive drivers, DWIs, seat-belt and child-restraint laws.”

Some automobile service station mechanics hope the weekend will give them a break from the increase in traffic. For the last week, motorists brought their cars in for repairs before leaving town for the Fourth of July.

“My end of the increase has already come and gone,” Nelson Richardson, head mechanic for Connecticut Avenue Amoco, 5001 Connecticut Ave. NW, said yesterday afternoon. “At the beginning of this week we were super busy. Now we’re pretty slow.”

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