The Fourth of July menu calls for burgers, hot dogs and plenty of traffic.
A record number of Americans will hit the roads, skies, rails and sea during the Independence Day holiday, at times creating a commuting catastrophe that could nearly quadruple travel times for many New Yorkers, according to AAA Northeast.
The gridlock is expected to be at its worst locally on Wednesday between 1:45 and 3 p.m., creating delays 3.8 times the normal commute, according to INRIX, a global traffic data and analytics firm.
AAA attributes the spike in travel to a low national unemployment, robust consumer spending and cheaper gasoline prices compared with last summer.
"A good economy is putting extra money in people's pockets and they are choosing to spend it by taking a trip," AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair said.
AAA projects that nearly 49 million Americans will take a trip of at least 50 miles for the festivities — beginning Wednesday, and continuing through Sunday — the most since the transportation nonprofit began tracking holiday travel in 2000. Overall travel volume is expected to increase 4.1 percent, or an additional 1.9 million commuters, AAA said.
The overwhelming majority of travelers — an estimated 41.4 million Americans — will travel by automobile, the most on record for the holiday and 4.3 percent more than last year, AAA estimates.
"With record-level travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays around our major metros,” said Trevor Reed, a transportation analyst at INRIX. “Although travel times are expected to nominally increase throughout the week, hands down, Wednesday afternoon will be the worst time to be on the road.”
Cheaper gas is fueling the increased travel, experts suggest.
Long Island motorists will pay on average $2.86 for a gallon of regular, 15 cents cheaper than this time last year when prices hovered just over $3. The average price for gas in New York is $2.87 and $2.71 nationally, according to AAA.
Natalie Gruppuso, 39, of Manhattan, hit the road Monday with her daughter, Joy, who turns 5 on Wednesday, and Natalie’s twin sister, Christina Gruppuso of Forest Hills, driving to Montauk for a quick two-day vacation.
"We’re going to the lighthouse, eat some ice cream and go to the beach,” said Christina Gruppuso.
Nearly 4 million Americans will fly to their holiday destination — another all-time record and a 5.3 percent increase from 2018, AAA said.
The Port Authority expects more than 2 million passengers to use area airports over the extended Fourth of July weekend, a projected 2.9 percent increase from 2018. An estimated 982,000 travelers will fly in or out of Kennedy Airport while another 384,000 will use LaGuardia, officials said.
But millions of Americans could be forced to watch the fireworks from an airport lounge. AirHelp, a flight compensation company, said more than 40,000 flights were disrupted at U.S. airports during the July 4 weekend in 2018.
"We urge passengers to read up on their rights for disruptions, luggage issues and overbooked flights to ensure that they are receiving compensation they may be legally entitled to claim and reimbursement for plans they may have missed due to the airline's errors," said Henrik Zillmer, chief executive of AirHelp.
An additional 3.55 million passengers will take a train, bus or cruise ship to their destination, up 0.6 percent from a year earlier, AAA said.
The Long Island Rail Road plans to run eight extra trains Wednesday afternoon from Penn Station to accommodate early departures. They include three on the Babylon line, three to Hicksville and Huntington, one to Far Rockaway and another to Great Neck. Special trains that normally run on summer Fridays, including the Cannonball to Montauk, will also operate Wednesday.
State and local law enforcement agencies warned motorists they will step up their presence on the roads through the end of the weekend, with additional patrols and checkpoints looking for intoxicated drivers.
Last year, State Police issued nearly 10,500 vehicle and traffic tickets during the July Fourth weekend. Troopers last year arrested 216 people for DWI and investigated 165 crashes, which resulted in four deaths and 244 injuries. Nassau and Suffolk police made 34 DWI arrests last year from the evening of July 3 to the morning of July 5, officials said.
Shannon Barry, her husband, Alex, and their dog, Lily, stopped Monday at the Long Island Welcome Center in Dix Hills on their way from Chicago to Port Jefferson to visit her sister-in-law.
“Summer to me doesn’t feel like summer unless I am here on Long Island,” said Shannon Barry, who misses the smell of ocean air, bagels and pizza.
The Barrys prefer to drive on their vacations so they can travel with Lily so they are sensitive to the price of gas.
“Summer road trips are supposed to be fun and somewhat financially feasible,” she said. “It’s definitely a concern.”