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AAA: Expect 1 in 3 Americans to travel during the holiday stretch

The 2018 projections are a 4.4 percent increase from last year and the most since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2001.

This must be why Santa travels by reindeer. 

A record number of Americans will hit the roads, rails and skies during the year-end holiday travel period, at times creating a travel nightmare that could nearly quadruple average commuting times for some New Yorkers, according to AAA Northeast.

Locally, the gridlock was expected to be worst on Thursday night, as millions look to flee the Big Apple, many to warmer climates. 

To make matters worse, heavy rain and sustained winds are expected through Friday evening, further complicating commutes, according to the National Weather Service in Upton. 

The forecast calls for moderate coastal flooding during high tide Friday morning, with winds of 15 to 30 mph and gusts of 40 to 45 mph, especially along the coast, into the late evening, the Weather Service said.

AAA projects that a record 112.5 million travelers — more than one-third of all Americans — will take road trips, flights, cruises or ride the rails to their holiday destinations in the coming days.

The 11-day year-end travel period, defined as running from Saturday through Jan. 1, is one day longer than last year's, due to Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Tuesdays this year.

“Strong economic growth fueled by robust consumer spending continues to drive seasonal travel,” AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. said. “With a record-breaking one-third of the country choosing to travel this holiday, roadways and airports are sure to be busy.”

The 2018 projections are a 4.4 percent increase from last year's numbers and the most since the transportation nonprofit began tracking holiday travel in 2001.

The total volume of holiday travelers has risen each of the past 10 years by an average of 2.8 percent, but with a strong national economy and cheaper gas prices, AAA warns that traffic may feel unusually bad this year.

The overwhelming majority of holiday commuters — an estimated 102.1 million Americans — will travel by automobile, a 4.4 percent increase from 2017 and a 23.3 percent hike from 2000, according to INRIX, a global traffic data and analytics firm.

And the ride may be slightly cheaper than in recent years.

Gas prices on Long Island were averaging $2.68 per gallon, which, while17 cents less than a month earlier, was still 28 cents more than the $2.40 national average, AAA found. Gas prices in New York City averaged $2.78 per gallon, down 18 cents from a month earlier, the data show.

The national average price for gas was $2.45 this time last year.

Air travel will also see a major uptick as an estimated 6.7 million travelers converge on airports nationwide, the most since 2003, and a 4.2 percent increase from one year earlier, INRIX said.

The busiest days to fly nationally are Dec. 22, 23 and 26, most often to top warm-weather destinations such as Orlando, Florida; Cancun, Mexico; and Anaheim, California.

Travel by bus, rail and cruise ship is also expected to see an increase by 4 percent to a combined 3.7 million passengers, AAA said.

Locally, the Long Island Rail Road will provide 13 extra afternoon trains from Penn Station on Friday, Monday and Dec.  28 and 31, for those leaving early for the Christmas and New Year’s Eve weekends.

On Tuesday, Suffolk County law enforcement warned that they would step up their presence on the roads through the coming holidays, with additional patrols and checkpoints looking for intoxicated and high drivers.

"We are encouraging residents to take a ride-share if you are going to drink," Suffolk Police Chief Stuart Cameron said. "Don't make a bad decision that will haunt you for the rest of your life."

Suffolk police, Cameron said, will also be targeting distracted drivers. Thus far in 2018, Cameron said, police have issued about 2,100 citations for distracted driving, a 36 percent increase from the roughly 1,500 tickets issued in 2017.

In Nassau, the operators of All Island Taxi and its affiliated companies are offering free rides home through Jan. 1 from any bar, restaurant or catering hall to help prevent drunken driving.

Drivers can also expect to see more sobriety checkpoints on state roadways as part of the "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign, which runs through Jan. 1.

“If you’re celebrating, please do so responsibly," State Police Superintendent George Beach II said. "Impaired drivers cause needless deaths and injuries."

Ten people were killed in motor vehicle crashes last holiday season, officials said.

During last year’s crackdown, State Police issued 40,489 tickets statewide, including more than 13,000 for speeding and nearly 1,300 for distracted driving. A total of 645 people statewide were arrested by State Police for DWI during last year's holiday season.

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