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July Fourth holiday traffic crush expected Wednesday

Wallace Pickard, of Huntington, and his wife June

Wallace Pickard, of Huntington, and his wife June pack for a month's vacation on Fire Island. (July 2, 2013) Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

With his employer closed for the week and five free days ahead, Steve Wolf, 28, was relaxed and joking with a colleague Tuesday as they waited in Bay Shore for the ferry to Ocean Beach.

Other than to enjoy the beach and nightlife, "the plan is no plan," said Wolf, a sales engineering specialist from Smithtown, as he sat on a bench, suitcases in tow.

He and a few dozen others were getting a head start on the peak departure day Wednesday for what an AAA report calls the largest share of Fourth of July weekend travel. Slightly fewer travelers are expected to hit the roads nationally this year -- 34.4 million, down 0.7 percent from last year, the AAA said. The dip in volume comes as the holiday falls on a Thursday this year, meaning a five-day break, compared with six days last year when the Fourth fell on Wednesday, the AAA said.

The majority of travelers -- 84 percent -- are planning to drive, with the average vacationer venturing 613 miles roundtrip and spending an average of $747, the AAA said.

Area roads may be crowded, with 4.7 million vacationers departing New York, New Jersey and Connecticut by car this weekend, the AAA said.

With some people leaving during the day and others after work Wednesday, roads could be busy all day, said Robert Sinclair Jr., media relations manager for AAA New York. However, it's "crush time" Sunday, when returnees tend to hit the road in the 6 p.m.-to-midnight range, he said.

Those looking to depart the city Wednesday afternoon by train will find eight more options on the Babylon, Port Jefferson, Port Washington and Far Rockaway branches, the Long Island Rail Road said. Also running Wednesday will be trains to the Hamptons and Montauk that normally operate only on Fridays, including The Cannonball, the LIRR said.

Among those getting a head start on the weekend rush Tuesday were Wallace Pickard, 66, and his wife, June, waiting for the ferry to their Ocean Beach house for a one-month stay.

Gesturing to their coolers, luggage and bags of food, June Pickard said, "They wouldn't let us take all this going over tomorrow." The two, originally from Huntington, now live in New Jersey.

Bill Appel, 68, of Brooklyn, heading to Dunewood on Fire Island, said, "I'm bringing my cellphone with me. Hopefully it won't ring."

As for other visitors to Long Island, "We expect this to be a very good holiday season," said R. Moke McGowan, president of the Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau and Sports Commission. The weather is accommodating, gas rates are reasonable, consumer confidence is up and people "are looking forward to getting out and enjoying some R and R," he said.

Still, as with any nice long summer weekend, he said to expect heavier traffic, especially on the South Fork. And while the weekend is a great chance for recreation, vacationers are advised not to carry that too far, as Nassau and Suffolk police said they will have extra patrols out checking for boaters and drivers operating under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The National Weather Service is forecasting clearing skies and temperatures in the low 80s for the long weekend, with the only possible glitch a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Saturday afternoon.

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