Record travel, tie-ups expected for holiday weekend

New Hampshire Union Leader
May 23. 2018 11:52PM
Jim Shinnick of Walpole, Mass., stops with his dog, Millie, at the Hooksett Rest Area while heading north for the long weekend in his camper. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Here’s the good holiday weekend news: Experts expect the biggest crowds in more than a decade to hit the road, even though people have to pay more to fill up their tanks.

“The highest gas prices since 2014 won’t keep travelers home this Memorial Day weekend,” said Pat Moody, director of public affairs for AAA Northern New England. “A strong economy and growing consumer confidence are giving Americans all the motivation they need to kick off what we expect to be a busy summer travel season with a Memorial Day getaway.”

Here’s the bad news: The traffic tie-ups will be at their worst starting today, and delays could be three times greater than normal, according to INRIX, a global transportation analytics company.

More New Englanders will be driving to their holiday destinations than in any year since 2005, officials said. AAA said 1.7 million people are expected to travel in New England, 90 percent of them by car. Another 150,000 people will be flying, according to the travel forecast.

In New England, the numbers of drivers is up by 5 percent, higher than the national average. Air travel in the region should be up 6 percent, officials said.

Gas prices in New Hampshire reached an average of $2.87 per gallon, a 6-cent jump from the previous week and 57 cents higher at the same point last year.

The worst congestion on the road will likely occur today and Friday afternoon as holiday travelers mix with commuters.

“U.S. drivers are all too familiar with sitting in traffic,” said Graham Cookson, chief economist and head of research, for INRIX. “Drivers should expect congestion across a greater number of days than in previous years, with the getaway period starting on Wednesday. Our advice to drivers is to avoid peak commute times in major cities altogether — traveling late morning or early afternoon — or plan alternative routes.”

While gas prices are higher, there are savings from other expenses. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, airfares are 7 percent lower than they were last Memorial Day for an average price of $168 for a round-trip flight to the top 40 domestic routes.

The average cost to rent a car, $59, is the lowest mark in the past four years and 11 percent less than last year.

Meanwhile, hotel costs are trending at 14 percent less than last year for hotels given at least a three-diamond rating by AAA.

The top destination for the long weekend in the U.S. is Orlando, Fla., home to Walt Disney World. Boston is ranked eighth and New York City is No. 10.

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