- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gas prices $1-per-gallon higher than this time last year are not likely to deter area motorists from traveling on Memorial Day weekend, although estimates released Tuesday suggest they will spend less when they get where they’re going.

AAA Mid-Atlantic projects that 776,000 of the roughly 866,600 D.C.-area residents expected to travel this weekend will be driving - a bump of about 5,700 drivers from 2010.

Standing at the eastern foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Tuesday, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John B. Townsend II said the District’s ability to weather the recession better than other cities was the reason its families and households are “less bothered by the high cost of gas.”

U.S. Department of Energy figures say gas prices in May 2010 were $2.89-per-gallon compared to this month’s average of $3.93-per-gallon.

But Lon Anderson, another AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman, said that because of recent decreases in gas prices, which came down 11 cents in one week, “it wouldn’t surprise us a bit if those numbers (of drivers) are lowballs of what happens.”

Across the country, holiday-weekend travelers are expected to spend about $692 less than last year’s median spending of $809.

A nearly 13 percent increase in D.C.-area travelers who fly over the holiday weekend is projected, while the number of those taking bus and rail is expected to decline by 11 percent compared to last year.

A projected 73,000 D.C.-area residents will take to the skies for the Memorial Day holiday, but only 17,000 will use mass ground transportation.

Mr. Townsend called the decrease in bus and rail travel “counterintuitive,” because residents who commute by bus and rail during the workweek rather than doing so on the weekend will drive 50 miles or more from home.

“Why? They will not be denied,” he said.

AAA’s national travel forecast predicts about 35 million people - or roughly 11 percent of the country’s population - will make a Memorial Day trip, and it will be an average of 166 miles farther than destinations last year that were within an average of 626 miles from their homes.

About 30.9 million Americans will use cars to get to their holiday destinations, down about 100,000 last year, AAA officials said.

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