Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer travel season and experts are predicting more traffic, but not in Georgia.
The Georgia Department of Transportation is advising motorist to expect delays, plan ahead and be patient.
"We anticipate a very busy travel weekend," said Georgia DOT Commissioner Vance C. Smith, Jr. "Traffic congestion on Thursday and Friday will be heavier than normal, with rush hour beginning as early as 1 p.m. in high-volume areas."
Georgia DOT will suspend construction-related lane closures on all interstates and major state routes from 5 a.m., Friday, May 28 until 10 p.m., Monday, May 31.
However, the AAA is expecting only a modest Southeast travel increase of 0.2 percent, with Florida and Georgia travel actually projected to decline.
For Georgia, the decline is attributed to reduced air travel, said Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA.
“The reason we expect that decline in air travel is because of the increased air travel we’re seeing now as well as fees associated with checked luggage and things of that nature and the limited seating many airlines have right now,” Brady said. Having the large Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport may be a factor in why Georgia travel is down more than other areas, she said.
Across the country though, AAA projects 32.1 million Americans to travel over the long weekend versus the 30.5 million Americans who traveled last year, representing a 5.4 percent increase.
Brady said nationwide, people are ready to travel after years of financial caution.
“There has been a pent up demand to travel for the past few years,” Brady said. “People have been very hesitant to travel; they have not been traveling.”
Gas prices also are lower right now, which could contribute to more cars on the road this year, Brady said.
The state average Wednesday was $2.679 a gallon, according to AAA. A gallon of regular unleaded costs about 7 cents less than a month ago, at a time when gas prices usually spike ahead of the summer travel season.
That’s welcome news to the many that Brady said traditionally drive to recreational destinations like beaches and campgrounds closer to home over Memorial Day weekend.
“The Memorial Day holiday is an auto-heavy travel holiday as it is,” Brady said. “It’s not like a Christmas or a Thanksgiving where the whole family gets together.”
But all those cars on the road can lead to dangerous situations. Each year, thousands are involved in automobile crashes during the 78-hour holiday period. This year, the Georgia State Patrol estimates there will be 1,972 traffic crashes, 696 injuries and 15 traffic deaths on Georgia roads during the holiday weekend.
“Last year, 16 people died on our roads during the holiday weekend, including three deaths that were alcohol-related,” said Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. “Seven of the 14 people killed in car crashes were not wearing seat belts or other safety equipment.”
The highest number of traffic deaths on Georgia roads during the Memorial Day holiday weekend occurred in 2005 when 32 people were killed. The lowest number was recorded in 1979 and 2007 when 10 deaths occurred over the holiday weekend. The Crash Reporting Unit began keeping statistics on Memorial Day travel in 1969.
Melissa Weinman of The Gainesville Times contributed to this article.