HAGERSTOWN —With nearly 900,000 Maryland residents expected to drive 50 miles or more for this Thanksgiving holiday, travelers might have to face heavy traffic en route to their destination.
For many area residents the solution is simple: travel when there is not a lot of traffic.
“I travel at the time it’s convenient for me,” Hagerstown resident Dennis King, 61, who plans on having Thanksgiving Day dinner in Silver Spring, Md., with his son. “It doesn’t seem to be any different on Thanksgiving Day than a normal weekend day.”
The total number of anticipated Maryland travelers for the Thanksgiving holiday period only increased slightly this year, according to an AAA press release. A total of 882,700 are projected to travel, a 0.4 percent increase from last year.
The holiday period is defined as Wednesday through Sunday.
“Even though we’ve seen a steady increase in holiday travel since 2008, many Americans still remain unemployed or under financial stress,” AAA Public and Government Affairs Manager Ragina Averella said. “We actually have a slight decrease in travel by air.”
Approximately 61,600 travelers are expected to travel by air, a 1.9 percent decrease from last year, and about 18,000 are expected to travel by other modes, including bus, train, and watercraft. That is a 13.5 percent increase from last year, according to AAA.
The majority of travelers by automobile are expected to leave Wednesday and return Sunday, according to Averella.
“We advise motorists to plan to leave early and make sure their car is road-ready,” she said. “Traffic is usually heavy on I-95 both ways, and it’s not just Marylanders traveling through there.”
To avoid the traffic, some travelers talked about changing their routes to get to where they are going.
Matthew Oliver, who is in the Army and stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., is visiting his family in Martinsburg, W.Va., this week, and they will be driving to Gloucester, Va., Wednesday for Thanksgiving. Major roadways to get there include I-81, I-66, and I-95, but Oliver, 39, could go a different way.
“We could go 81 to 17 (U.S. 17) or 66,” he said. “It depends on when you leave. You have to time it and know the places that get congested.”
Residents who are not traveling far may still want to avoid major travel roadways during the holiday season.
Desirae Hite, 22, of Martinsburg, will be visiting her grandmother in Inwood, W. Va. for Thanksgiving but will not be using I-81 or U.S. 11.
“We take lots of back roads and try to avoid the interstate as much as possible,” she said. “Route 45 (W.Va. 45) is definitely a back road that we take.”
Assisting those driving long distances by automobile, the national average for regular grade gas Tuesday was down to $3.41 per gallon from $3.44 a week ago and $3.67 a month ago, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. It was at $3.40 in Maryland.
Wallace Clifton, 70, stopped at the Sheetz station on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown Tuesday to fill up his vehicle before continuing on his trip to Rayland, Ohio, from Hollywood, Md., for Thanksgiving. He is avoiding traffic by traveling before the holiday period.
“We leave early, and traffic is not bad on the interstate,” he said. “To avoid traffic, don’t travel Wednesday or Sunday.”
The Maryland State Highway Administration is also taking steps to accommodate Thanksgiving travelers, including suspending non-emergency roadwork between today at 9 a.m. and Monday morning. Emergency response units also will be placed on the interstates to assist stranded motorists, according to an emailed release from the SHA.
“We still urge drivers to use caution when going through a work zone,” SHA District Community Liaison Heather Keels said. “The traffic patterns may be a little different than usual.”
To avoid the heavy traffic, Hagerstown resident Amy Paules, 34, will be traveling to Baltimore on Thanksgiving Day with her husband and children to visit family.
“I’m hoping there won’t be any traffic on Thanksgiving,” she said. “It’s only an hour away.”
Judy Butts, 66, also of Hagerstown, has traveled in the past for Thanksgiving but will not be doing so this year. However, the last time she did travel, making a trip to see her son outside of Philadelphia, she also waited until Thanksgiving Day to make the trip.
“We took the Pennsylvania Turnpike the morning of Thanksgiving, but I try to avoid interstates on Wednesday,” she said. “Now everybody comes to my house on Thanksgiving.”
Here is a list of tips from the Maryland State Highway Administration and AAA on traveling for Thanksgiving.
• Plan to leave early.
• Make sure your vehicle is ready to travel long distance, including filling it up and making sure all its systems are working.
• Consider traveling at a time different from the heaviest travel period, such as leaving Tuesday or Thursday and returning Saturday.
• If emergency units are out, move over to a travel lane away from them if possible.
• Avoid using cell phones, changing CDs, and eating while driving.
• Drivers with cell phones can dial #77 or 911 to report suspected aggressive or drunk drivers.
• If involved in a minor crash, move your vehicle away from travel lanes.
• Make sure everybody in the vehicle is wearing seat belts.
• Before traveling, you can visit md511.org or dial it, and while in the vehicle you can have somebody not driving dial 511 for travel information.