Gas is more expensive than it was last Memorial Day weekend, but that isn’t likely to deter holiday travelers, according to AAA and the state Department of Transportation.
In fact, nationwide AAA is predicting a record 37.6 million automobile travelers for the holiday weekend, a 3.5 percent increase from last year. And gas prices, which are lower year-to-year in most of the country but higher in the Northwest, won’t be much of a factor.
“When gas prices are expensive, travelers may shorten the distance of a road trip, eat out less or look for free activities,” AAA gas price expert Jeanette Casselano said in a news release. “But, overall, prices are very similar to this time last year and, like then, they aren’t letting that deter them from taking summer road trips.”
The national average for a gallon of regular gas as of Thursday was $2.845, compared to $2.959 a year ago. In Washington state, though, it was $3.546 Thursday, up nearly 11 cents per gallon from a year ago. It was slightly better in Yakima, where Thursday’s $3.449 per gallon was only about 9 cents higher than a year ago.
In any case, Memorial Day traffic around here is going to be heavy, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Summer Derrey said. It’s generally tied with Labor Day weekend for the most traffic on Snoqualmie Pass over Interstate 90, she said. The department’s historical data suggests there will be 40,000 to 50,000 trips over the pass per day this weekend, nearly double the 27,000-per-day average.
“It’s one of the first weekends when people want to get out,” Derrey said Thursday. “And we got some great weather today, so people are really ready to head out.”
That means there will be delays on all state highways and interstates. But they can be mitigated with planning, Derrey said. The highest traffic volumes will be between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Friday and Monday, so leaving earlier or later than that will help, as will using less-traveled mountain passes, such as White Pass over U.S. Highway 12 or Chinook Pass over State Route 410.
“Chinook Pass reopened (Wednesday),” Derrey said. “So we got that gate swung open a little early this year.”
But if you have to take I-90, and you have to do so during a high-traffic time, it’s best to remember that you and everyone else on the road are in this together.
“I would really encourage drivers to be patient,” Derrey said. “There will be a lot of other drivers on the road — probably a lot of bad drivers — so do your best to be one of the good drivers.”