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Road trips likely most popular way to travel on Labor Day weekend in time of coronavirus

Motorists heading east jam the Southern State Parkway

Motorists heading east jam the Southern State Parkway at Exit 19 Eagle Avenue in Hempstead at the start of the Labor Day weekend on Friday. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Traveling by car over Labor Day weekend can offer more control over possible exposure to COVID-19 — and gas prices are low — so AAA Northeast expects road trips to again be the most popular by far.

Robert Sinclair, a AAA Northeast spokesman, said the group had not forecast Labor Day traffic since 2014, finding the cost prohibitively high, but he stressed how much travel by rail, plane or ship had plunged.

Citing the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and travel restrictions imposed to control it, Sinclair by telephone said traveling within the tristate area or New England may be favored.

That way, holiday goers will not have to quarantine when they return, as they would if they sojourn in other states where COVID-19 is more prevalent.

Even without the novel coronavirus, traffic jams over the Labor Day holiday are common.

To ease travel, the Port Authority announced Friday it will suspend construction at crossings during Labor Day weekend .

“The holiday normally features millions traveling, overwhelmingly by car, with significant numbers flying, cruising or taking a bus or train,” AAA Northeast, a not-for-profit club, said in a statement.

And road trips are rising from the exceptional lows of spring, when authorities said car trips in some spots were more than halved.

Yet during the week of Aug. 23, the New York State Thruway saw a much smaller 25% decline in traffic versus a year ago, AAA Northeast said.

Tolls collected by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at New York City bridges and tunnels were off only 16% during the week of Aug. 16, the group said.

Travel by rail, however, is down 85%, it said.

Metropolitan area travelers are quite slowly returning to the air — at least at Newark — though ocean cruises remain frozen.

After springtime plane travel plunged at the three New York area airports — down 80% on April 16 from a comparable day last year — Newark Liberty Airport last week clipped the decline to 70%, AAA Northeast said, citing Transportation Security Administration data.

The number of people boarding planes at LaGuardia Airport, however, last week was down 78%, it said. And Kennedy Airport clocked an even steeper drop than in April: 84%.

While both jet fuel and gasoline prices are down, motorists appear to be the chief beneficiaries.

A recent two- to four-cent rise in gasoline prices was pinned on Hurricane Laura, AAA Northeast said, but national and local prices are 34 to 55 cents less than last year with averages between $2.22 on Long Island and $2.33 in New York City, AAA Northeast said.

All the more reason, said Sinclair, for people to travel in “our previous cocoon-like motor vehicles.”

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