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July 2, 2021

After last year's dud, travel this July Fourth weekend may go off like a firecracker

Photo / William Hall The Maine Turnpike Authority expects traffic volume along the 109-mile highway to rebound this holiday weekend to almost reach the level in 2019.
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Gas prices are at record highs and the weather is predicted to be cool and damp, but travel over the Independence Day weekend is expected to approach pre-COVID levels.

The forecast could be welcome news for Mainers who normally count on brisk business at this time of year — but were disappointed in 2020, during the early phase of the pandemic.

Nationally, AAA predicts that 47.7 million Americans will take to the roads and skies from July 1-5. That number represents an increase of 37% compared to last year’s holiday period, when shutdowns and quarantines limited the volume to 34.2 million travelers.

More than 91% of holiday travel will be by car. The 43.6 million Americans expected to drive are the highest number on record for the period, and 5% more than the previous record, set in 2019, according to AAA.

Maine road warriors will be out in force. Between Friday and Monday, 1.15 million toll transactions are expected on the Maine Turnpike, spokeswoman Erin T. Courtney told Mainebiz. That volume is a 36% jump from the same four-day period in 2020 and just 0.3% less than in  2019, when the highway recorded its busiest Independence Day travel period ever.

On Saturday alone, the authority expects 352,000 vehicles to pass through turnpike tolls, Courtney said.

The traffic torrent is expected despite gasoline selling at the highest price in seven years, AAA said. In Maine, it’s currently going for a minimum of $2.80 a gallon.

Drivers may have to contend with wet roads, with rain and rain showers predicted across much of the state on Friday and Saturday. Look for some clearing on July 4, perhaps in time for the fireworks displays planned statewide after last year’s hiatus.

Air travel this weekend should be way up, too — soaring 164% over last year to an estimated total of 3.5 million passengers, or 90% of the usual pre-pandemic level. Late Friday morning, no significant delays were reported at Portland International Jetport or Bangor International Airport.

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