Travel will drop 1 percent this Thanksgiving, still tops 1 million

Jammed on the Beltway? It\'s worse in Honolulu. (WTOP/Kristi King)

WASHINGTON – A new travel forecast predicts a 1.1 percent drop in the number of Washingtonians expected to travel more than 50 miles for Thanksgiving, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

However, AAA Mid-Atlantic reports that 1,058,000 people will still leave town the week of Thanksgiving, creating a large amount of traffic on the road and big crowds at Reagan National, Dulles International, BWI Marshall and Union Station.

“It’s going to be crowded up and down the I-95 corridor, I-66, the Bay Bridge — no road will be unscathed or unaffected,” says AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs John Townsend.

But that’s only part of the story, Townsend says.

“Once you get out to Virginia about 50 miles out, you’re going to account another 1.2 million people. Fifty miles into Maryland, you’ll run into another 800,000 – 900,000 persons also going out of town,” he says.

Townsend says there’s really no good solution to avoid traffic and crowds, even if travelers leave late at night or early in the morning.

“No matter when you leave or what your plan is, someone else has already thought about it. Just be prepared and be patient getting to your destination,” says Townsend.

Turmoil between the White House and Capitol Hill over the budget is one major reason for the drop in those traveling long distances this holiday, Townsend says.

“It’s the effect of the sequestration, the government shutdown and the uncertainty over the debt ceiling crisis. So Washington workers and especially contractors are particularly unnerved by the chaos on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue,” says Townsend.

He says with defense workers losing money to furlough days, contractors seeing reduced business and an uncertain future, much of the federal workforce is bringing in less income and therefore will cutback on travel and spending over Thanksgiving.

About 91 percent of all travelers drive, 7 percent fly and the rest take trains, buses and boats. Both the number of drivers and fliers will decline next week, but AAA Mid-Atlantic projects a 20 percent jump in other travel modes because of competitive fares.

Gasoline prices will be much lower this Thanksgiving compared to last. Prices are about a quarter less than a year ago nationwide and locally about a dime cheaper, according to Gas Buddy. The average price of gas in D.C. is about $3.48.

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