Memorial Day weekend travel to rebound despite high gas prices, says AAA

As more people get vaccinated, and businesses continue to reopen in the D.C. region and elsewhere after a year of pandemic restrictions, AAA Travel forecasts Memorial Day weekend travel will rebound.

Over 37 million people are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home from May 27 through May 31 this year, an increase of 60% over last year, when only 23 million traveled. Last year’s Memorial Day travel volume was the lowest since AAA began recording numbers in 2000.

Gas prices are expected to be the most expensive since 2014, with the national average perhaps topping $3 per gallon.

“As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.

“This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer, though we must all remember to continue taking important safety precautions.”

Road trips will double during the travel weekend, compared to the same holiday period last year. Early in the pandemic, travel was last-minute, with the heaviest congestion between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. on both Friday and Monday, and at midday both Saturday and Sunday.

By contrast, getaways are expected to be closer to normal this year, said AAA, citing INRIX transportation analytics. Traffic volume is expected to begin increasing on Wednesday, May 26, likely leading to delays.

“Holiday getaway traffic volume in the Washington metro will heavily impact the afternoon commute in a two-hour window from 3:30-5:30 p.m., Thursday May 27,” said John Townsend, of AAA mid-Atlantic. “Travel delays in the Washington metro area will increase 10% along I-95 south, and along I-395 to Va. 123 on Thursday.”

Gasoline prices will be higher this year, in part due to higher demand. The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers 45% of fuel to the East Coast, is offline due to a cyberattack but is expected to be restored before Memorial Day.

“We don’t expect higher gas prices to deter motorists this holiday season as many Americans are eager to travel,” said Jeanette McGee, of AAA. “We typically find that when pump prices increase, travelers look for more free activities or eat out less while on vacation, but still take their planned trips.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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