WASHINGTON – Gasoline prices are high, but not high enough to keep Marylanders stuck at home during Thanksgiving. Transportation officials predict that even more drivers will be hitting the roads for the holiday this year than last year.
Jenny Hackler, 35, a Silver Spring resident who was picking up maps Friday at the American Automobile Association office in Washington, said she would like to see lower gas prices. But the high price was “not gonna stop me,” said Hackler, who is heading to Princeton, N.J., for the holidays.
AAA officials expect 616,980 Maryland motorists to be on the road this Thanksgiving, nearly a 4 percent increase from last year.
Officials at area airports and rail stations are also expecting a crush of business, starting Tuesday and growing through Wednesday, when traffic is expected to be at its worst. Sunday is also expected to be a heavy travel day, as people rush home from the holidays.
“We encourage people as much as possible to travel on Tuesday,” said David Buck, a State Highway Administration spokesman.
With so many people on the road, state highway officials plan to take extra precautions. Buck said extra emergency traffic patrollers will be out for the holidays.
“We’ll change people’s tires, give a free gallon of gas and do some minor repairs,” Buck said.
Myra Wieman, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the expected increase in Thanksgiving travelers did not come as a shock, after the high amount of Memorial Day traffic, when gas was about $1.50 a gallon. Gas prices in Maryland now hover around $1.53 per gallon, compared to $1.28 from last Thanksgiving.
“Gas prices are high, but people still want to be with their family. We were more surprised with Memorial Day,” Wieman said. “Now we’re over the surprise.”
Heavy airport travel comes as no surprise to officials at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, where 64,000 passengers are expected Wednesday, said spokesman Ron Grubb. The airport’s biggest day will be Sunday, when 66,550 are expected to come through BWI.
Grubb said 51,000 people fly from the airport on a typical day. A total of 403,836 people are expected for the week, about 50,000 more than last year. With such crowds, Grubb said parking will probably be a problem so passengers should plan ahead.
“My advice is try to use alternate transportation if you can, like MARC. And plan on arriving at the airport two to two and half hours ahead,” Grubb said. “You need enough time to park and check in bags.”
And passengers should still expect to go through all boarding procedures, he said.
“Remember the FAA requires you show to ID and answer questions. We will be enforcing that even if there are a large number of people in the airport trying to get on the plane,” Grubb said.
Travelers will also face crowds at train stations. Amtrak expects a 35 percent increase in passengers from Tuesday to Monday, compared to an average week, said spokeswoman Brenda Follmer. She said Amtrak will add trains to help handle traffic in the Northeast corridor, expected to have the heaviest traffic in the system.
“It will be interesting to see what it’s like at Union Station,” Follmer said. “They say it’s going to be a zoo.”