- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

High gas prices, congested highways and a week of torrential rain will not stop roughly half of a million area residents from leaving town this holiday weekend.

AAA Mid-Atlantic is predicting a 1.6 percent increase in July Fourth travel compared to last year, with an estimated 629,000 people traveling 50 miles or more, said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for the association.

“We’re talking about numbers that if they’re not records, they’re going to be close to records,” he said.

The most popular destination for area travelers will be the ocean resorts.

“It should be a full house at Ocean City and Rehoboth,” Mr. Anderson said. “Especially given the horrible weather we’ve had earlier, people will want to see some sun and surf.”

There was congestion in the eastbound lanes of the Bay Bridge as early as yesterday morning.

Lindsay Reilly, a Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman, said traffic patterns are difficult to predict for the bridge on the July Fourth holiday because it falls on a different day each year, but 376,000 vehicles crossed the bridge last year from Friday, July 1 to Monday, July 4.

Mrs. Reilly said the agency is recommending motorists leave early and stay late and call 877/BAY-SPAN before leaving to get traffic information for Route 50 and the bridge.

The agency also warned motorists against tailgating because a recent study showed 58 percent of accidents on the bridge were rear-end collisions and 33 percent of those collisions were caused by following too close.

The second most popular destinations for area travelers, to which an estimated 21 percent of them are heading, are small towns and rural areas. Major cities such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia were the third most popular, attracting 19 percent of travelers.

Travelers also are taking to the roads this weekend despite gas in the region costing an average of 76.25 cents more than last year.

“It just shows that the economy is strong and $25 or $30 more for gas is not a deal breaker,” Mr. Anderson said.

While AAA estimates 10,000 more people will travel this weekend compared to July Fourth weekend last year, with gas prices as high as $3.12 a gallon in the District, Mr. Anderson said even more would be traveling if prices were closer to the $2.28 a gallon they paid on June 29 last year.

The association predicts many travelers will take a four-day weekend and that travel will be spread out through Tuesday.

“Because it’s a four-day holiday, people have a lot more options for when they leave,” Mr. Anderson said.

Still, he recommends avoiding highways on Saturday morning and during rush hour on Monday and Tuesday night because high volumes of traffic are expected.

Most major roadways are open after flooding earlier this week closed them. However, some road closings and detours remain in effect. Many states have Web sites and phone numbers on which travelers can check their planned routes.

For those staying in the area for the holiday, the Washington Regional Alcohol Program will offer free taxi rides up to $50 from Tuesday at 4 p.m. to Wednesday at 4 a.m.

Riders can use the SoberRide program by calling 800/200-TAXI. The service is offered in the District, Alexandria, Arlington, East Loudoun, Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Prince William counties.

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