- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2016

With low gas prices and more sunshine on the horizon, vacationers from the Washington metropolitan area can expect worse traffic this Memorial Day weekend than the region has seen in more than 10 years.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) released its projected traffic numbers Wednesday, and it doesn’t look good for the District, Maryland and Virginia — 2.6 million regional residents will travel by car for the holiday, a slight increase over last year’s figures and a record high since 2005.

Roadways around the Washington area will be most congested between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Thursday, the auto association predicts.

“They’re seeing a bonanza in crude oil prices and fuel prices,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said Wednesday at a press conference in Stevensville, Maryland.

Nationally, gas prices have dropped dramatically in recent months, incentivizing more people to choose cars when traveling, AAA says.

As of Tuesday, the national average price for gas was $2.29, or 45 cents less per gallon than last year.

Richard Meehan, mayor of Ocean City, Maryland, said at the press conference that his city is prepared for the summer tourist season to begin.

“Get in your cars, make that trip, come to Ocean City this weekend [and] throughout the summer,” Mr. Meehan said. “But make sure you’re safe while you’re there and you return home safely. The beach, the boardwalk, the fun, the food — that’s what it’s all about.”

The mayor pointed to local programs such as Walk Smart! and Bike Smart! that encourage tourists in Ocean City to wait for traffic signals and to use crosswalks.

Law enforcement officials also emphasized the need to focus on safety this season. Maryland Secretary of State Police Col. William Pallozzi said officers are cracking down on impaired drivers, drowsy truck drivers and others.

“There is no good vacation if you don’t get there,” Col. Pallozzi said. “So you have to arrive alive. And to do that you have to focus on driving safely.”

Col. Pallozzi pointed out that using one’s phone while driving is one of today’s leading causes for car accidents. Maryland police issued 4,000 citations for distracted driving in April alone.

“Put the phone down. It can wait,” Col. Pallozzi said. “Don’t take your hands off the steering wheel.”

About 200,000 people from the Washington metropolitan area will choose alternate modes of travel this weekend, such as airplanes, trains and buses, AAA says.

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