Heading to the beach or to visit family or friends for the Fourth of July? Be prepared for busy roads and airports, as nearly a million Marylanders are expected to travel over the holiday.
A total of more than 995,000 Maryland residents are expected to travel, which would make this year Maryland’s third-busiest July 4 holiday on record, according to Ragina Ali, the public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
AAA also predicts record-breaking numbers across the country, as 50.7 million Americans — the largest number of travelers ever projected for a July 4 weekend — are expected to depart and travel 50 miles or more from their homes for the holiday, according to a press release.
Nearly 90% of travelers in Maryland are expected to go by car, Ali said — a total of 874,000 people. That number is up slightly from last year but is still below 2019 travel numbers, she said.
Just under 80,000 Maryland residents are expected to fly to their destinations, Ali said, the second-highest number ever forecast for the holiday since 2001 and a 10% increase from last year. Around 42,000 people will take alternative forms of transportation such as buses or trains, according to the AAA press release.
Friday will likely be the busiest day for drivers, Ali said, and with so many people hitting the road, travel times may be nearly 30% longer than normal.
To steer clear of some of the congestion, drivers should avoid several places in the Baltimore area between 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, including I-97 between the Baltimore Beltway and Maryland Route 3, the outer loop of the Baltimore Beltway between I-795 and Security Boulevard, as well as northbound and southbound on I-95, said State Highway Administration spokesperson Charlie Gischlar. Between 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the D.C. area, people should also avoid I-295 and I-95 between Maryland Route 32 and down toward the Capital Beltway, he said.
From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, moderate congestion is expected on I-70 between U.S. Route 29 in Howard County and the Baltimore Beltway, he said. Southbound I-95 between the beltway and Maryland Route 152 in Harford County will likely also see some congestion, as will the inner and outer loops of the beltway between Belair Road and I-83. In D.C. between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday, people should avoid southbound I-95 in the area of the Capital Beltway and northbound I-295 going both directions, according to Gischlar.
On Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, traffic should be lighter in both the Baltimore and D.C. areas, he said, “barring any kind of incident on the roadway.”
From this Friday through Wednesday, drivers should also expect heavy traffic at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and along U.S. Route 50, according to a Maryland Transportation Authority press release. The best times to cross the bridge are early in the morning and later in the evening, as MDTA advises traveling before 7 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and before 9 a.m. on Sunday through Tuesday. On Wednesday, MDTA advises drivers start extra early and cross the bridge before 6 a.m.
In the evening, drivers should cross after 10 p.m. on Friday, after 7 p.m. on Saturday, after 8 p.m. on Sunday, after 5 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, and after 6 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the release.
Despite the expected traffic, there is some good news for drivers: Gas prices are significantly cheaper than they were this time last year, Ali said. Now, Maryland’s average price for gas is $3.45, while last year it was $4.83, she said.
Over the holiday, Ali said AAA will likely come to the rescue of around 7,300 people, and urged drivers to stay safe, including making sure to avoid distractions.
Drivers should also pay attention to the Move Over law, which requires people to move over one lane if they see people working on the side of the road, including tow providers, police and others. Two AAA tow drivers have died in recent years while working over the July 4 holiday, including one in Maryland, according to a press release.
Before leaving, Gischlar added that drivers should also do “the five-minute walk-around,” including making sure their tires are in good shape, and popping the hood to check their oil and cooling system.
At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, passengers should be “prepared for heavy passenger volumes,” said spokesperson Jonathan Dean, as the airport expects a busy weekend.
Hubs across the nation may also experience delays because of a shortage of air traffic controllers. An audit released last week by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation found that the Federal Aviation Administration “continues to face staffing challenges and lacks a plan to address them, which in turn poses a risk to the continuity of air traffic operations.”
Passengers, Dean said, should get to the airport early for their flights and make sure to allow more time if they plan to take a shuttle to their terminal.