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Insta-CoGo: A Less-Traveled Memorial Day?

Scott Vogel

Preliminary reports on automobile traffic over Memorial Day weekend are confirming what some in the travel industry and elsewhere had long suspected: Gas prices are finally beginning to take a toll on holiday car travel.

The decrease was far from dramatic. Traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, for instance, declined by just 3 percent from the same period last year, according to a report released yesterday by AAA Mid-Atlantic. Still, "the Maryland Transportation Authority was initially projecting more than 355,000 vehicles would cross the Bay Bridge - a 3 percent increase over 2007," said the report.

It would be presumptuous to come to any grand conclusions based on one bridge's traffic over one weekend, but it's safe to say that the rise in fuel prices is starting to alter the way we spend our long weekends, just as it will likely change how we spend our summer vacations.

After all, on Sunday, gas prices reached an average of $4 a gallon in the District, a distinction it now shares with 10 states, according to AAA. That's an increase of 15 cents in one week. And while an earlier AAA report suggested that Memorial Day vacationers might save money by flying, the only way flying would make economic sense was if you were traveling alone and to a destination at least 1,500 miles away.

Translation: It was still cheaper for most people to drive during Memorial Day weekend, which is to say it was not cheap at all.

There is a glimmer of a silver lining here. After all, fewer cars on the road means fewer greenhouse emissions, and if there's going to be a beneficiary here, it might as well be the planet Earth, which heaven knows has drawn the short straw often enough.

But Memorial Day weekend, in addition to a national time of reflection, is also a time of celebration, of marking the end of school and the beginning of summer, a time for overworked America to enjoy a few precious days away from the daily grind.

Or at least it was.

(Coming and Going, or CoGo, is the Travel section's weekly consumer column. For a look at last week's column, click here.)

By Scott Vogel |  May 28, 2008; 6:40 AM ET  | Category:  Scott Vogel
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Gas prices went up 15 cents in one week, and yet raising the gas tax even a penny, let alone as a percentage of the price, is untenable to many. Each extra penny is worth how much in fixing the infrastructure, expanding mass transit, exploring alternate technologies? If memory serves, it was something over $1 Billion annually. How short sighted will we remain?

Posted by: Oy! | May 28, 2008 9:47 AM

First, to Oy!

Not that I'm one of these vitriolic political posters here on WaPo, but I think there's a general discontentment with anything that might be seen as even slightly profiting or benefiting oil companies right now (even if it actually does not).

Until Bush & Cheney - who are so pro-oil it's nauseating - are out of office, we aren't going to see any meaningful dialogue with Big Oil about investing in alternative energy sources and mass transit. Start pinging your Senators and Representatives now and let 'em know that you consider energy and infrastructure a *huge* priority for whoever our next POTUS may be.

Second -

My husband and I are taking a "Triangle" road trip this summer - from Western Wisconsin to Syracuse to DC and back to Wisconsin.

Even with overnight hotel stays for the two longer legs (one of which we're doing over three days instead of two) and figuring in elevated gas prices (which we did) and maintenance/wear on our car we're *still* coming out ahead than if we had taken the series of one-way flights this trip would have entailed. By an astoundingly large margin.

I think increased gas is going to change the transportation infrastructure across the country. We can only hope it's soon and for the better, instead of some sort of "Atlas Shrugged"-flavored nightmare.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | May 28, 2008 12:00 PM

I can't believe the Washington Post would print this nonsense. I saw it on TV and heard it on the radio too. Traffic was down. Hello? Do you write this paper in a cave? Traffic was terrible this weekend. If traffic was lighter than normal where you live, I would like to know what part of fantasyland you inhabit. Around here, the highways are still jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.

Posted by: Tom | May 28, 2008 12:32 PM

Scott's not here today, but I'd like to respond to Tom. We're just reporting what AAA is reporting. But from my own experience -- I drove to Central Jersey and back, then all over the Beltway on Monday -- traffic wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. As always, I think it depends on when you're traveling -- and fewer cars doesn't necessarily translate to less traffic.

Posted by: John Deiner | May 28, 2008 4:07 PM

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