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AAA: Long Islanders should prepare for heavy holiday traffic this Fourth of July

Traffic congestion on the Long Island Expressway over

Traffic congestion on the Long Island Expressway over the July 4 weekend is predicted to be far worse than Independence Day 2020, the AAA said Tuesday. Credit: James Carbone

Thursday and Friday before the Fourth of July will be the worst for drivers leaving Long Island ahead of the holiday weekend, according to the AAA, as "travel-starved" Americans abandon at least some COVID-19 curbs.

The top two destinations for Long Islanders are Cape Cod and Newport, Rhode Island, according to travel agency bookings and requests for planning trips through its TripTik program, said Robert Sinclair Jr., a spokesman in the Garden City office of AAA Northeast.

Lake George and the Finger Lakes are in a tie for third place, while the Jersey Shore and the Hamptons are in fourth place, he said. North Carolina’s Outer Banks rank fifth.

Two of the gateways to New England, the Cross Bronx and the Bruckner Expressways, both will see 20% more outbound drivers than usual from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 2, Sinclair said.

On July 3, westbound traffic on the Long Island Expressway will be at its worst from 6 to 8 p.m. for exits near New York City, with another 20% increase predicted.

AAA statisticians are not, however, forecasting the worst times to return to Long Island, though Sinclair said his more than two decades of experience suggests that 6 p.m. through midnight July 5 will see the heaviest traffic.

"I see no reason to think it would be any different these days — and it may even be worse," he said, noting that the number of newly registered vehicles climbed during the pandemic as a safe alternative to public transportation, at least before coronavirus vaccines were developed.

Public transportation will likely account for about 620,000 trips over the holiday, the AAA said.

People will take to their cars in record numbers this Fourth of July, which is projected to be the second-highest travel day overall for the holiday on record, according to AAA. This is in part because of pent-up demand and because there is little to no cruise ship activity happening due to the pandemic, Sinclair said.

Gas prices on Long Island now are at a 6½-year high, but aren’t expected to increase more than a few cents for the Fourth of July weekend, fuel experts said.

The average price of a gallon of regular gas Tuesday on Long Island was $3.13, the highest since Dec. 1, 2014, said Denton Cinquegrana, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, an oil and energy information provider based in Rockville, Maryland.

AAA estimates that 43.6 million, or 91% of all Fourth of July celebrants, will travel by car, with 3.5 million opting to fly.

"Pent up desire is motivating the vast majority of holiday travelers to hit the road," Sinclair said.

The convenience of driving far outweighs "the obstacle of high gas prices for travel-starved Americans," he said.

Airfares have slipped by 2% when compared with a year-ago, though midrange hotels and car rentals also have gotten more costly, according to AAA.

The increases are especially dramatic with car rentals: Prices have spiked by an average of 86%, to $166 per day; Midrange hotels now charge an average of $156 if they fall into the two diamond AAA category for modest spots, and $398 for more upscale venues with three diamonds.

For trip planning, the AAA offers a guide:

By the numbers

The top five driving destinations for Long Islanders over the July 4 holiday.

  • Cape Cod, Massachusetts
  • Newport, Rhode Island
  • Upstate Lake George/Finger Lakes
  • The Hamptons or the Jersey Shore
  • The Outer Banks in North Carolina

* Based on data from those who booked trips through AAA’s travel department and requested TripTik Travel Planner services from the automobile club this year.

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