Record number expected to drive this holiday season, including 2.1 million state residents

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PITTSFIELD — Planning to travel over the holidays? You'll have plenty of company.

One-in-three Americans are expected to travel during this holiday season, with a record-breaking 112.5 million projected to hit the roads, airways and rails, according to the American Automobile Association. A record 102.1 million are expected to drive, a 4.4 percent increase from last year, the biggest jump since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2001.

AAA considers the holiday travel period to be between Saturday and Jan. 1, but based on historical and recent traffic trends, the global mobility company INRIX predicts that road congestion will have actually started by the middle of this week.

"Tis the season for holiday travel, and more Americans than ever will journey to spend time with friends and family or choose to take a vacation," said Mary Maguire, a spokeswoman for AAA Northeast.

In Massachusetts, 2.1 million travelers are expected to drive this year, a majority of the 2.45 million total state residents that are expected to travel. Boston and New York City are expected to be two of the country's four most congested metropolitan areas this holiday season, with trip delays of close to four hours in each city possible.

The most congested driving period in Boston was expected to occur Wednesday night, according to AAA. But for those traveling later, MassDOT will help ease the congestion by shutting down road construction between 12 p.m. Friday and the start of business Dec. 26, and from 5 a.m. Jan 28 to the start of business on Jan. 2.

In New York City, the worst travel time is expected to take place between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. today, where delays could reach 3 hours and 45 minutes, according to INRIX.

Nationally, INRIX considers today to be the worst day to travel during the entire holiday season.

"Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours," said Trevor Reed, a transportation anaylst at INRIX. "If schedules allow, leave bright and early, or after the morning commute."

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In the Berkshires, travel could be hampered by heavy rain that is expected to hit the area on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

BIG DROP IN PRICES

Strong economic growth led by consumer spending has continued to drive the demand for seasonal travel, Maguire said.

Low gas prices are also a factor. In Massachusetts, state gas prices have dropped 10 cents in the last three weeks, with a gallon of self-serve unleaded regular currently averaging $2.59 a gallon, according to AAA Northeast. Nationally, gas prices have dropped 53 cents since October, according to GasBuddy, which predicts the national average will fall to $2.35 per gallon by Christmas Day.

"The plunge at the pump has brought over $205 million of daily savings on gasoline versus two months ago to motorists nationwide," said Patrick DeHaan, the head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

"Over the course of Christmas week, the savings multiplied will mean motorists won't be leaving nearly $1.5 billion at the pump," he said. "What's more is that no state has been left behind. Everyone is seeing substantial savings."

Drivers traveling outside of Massachusetts can also save money by checking gas prices. Due to differing state taxes, in some extreme cases, drivers can spend an extra $25 when refueling their tanks if they're on the wrong side of a state line, a GasBuddy study has found.

According to the AAA Foundation for Public Safety, 46 percent of all crashes involving bad weather occur during the winter. The holiday season is no exception. AAA is expecting to rescue more than 960,000 motorists during the year-end holiday season travel period. The leading causes of trouble? Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires.

Other modes of travel will also be popular this holiday season. A total of 6.7 million people are expected to travel by air, the highest level in 15 years, an increase of 4.2 percent from 2017, according to AAA. Travel on trains, buses and cruise ships is expected to increase by 4 percent, with a total of 3.7 million passengers.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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