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Scenes from the second annual Oconee 4th of July Fireworks event hosted by the Oconee County Parks & Recreation department and Magic 102.1 at the Epps Bridge Center in Athens, Georgia, on July 4, 2019. The event, which drew a crowd of hundreds of Athenians, included live music, food, and a 30 minute long firework show. (Photo/Caroline Barnes, https://carolinembarnes.wixsite.com/photography)

Despite the rising prices for gas, residents in Georgia and Athens are predicted to hit a new travel record this July 4, with 1.5 million Georgians expected to be on the roads for the holiday weekend.

AAA predicts that 1.5 million Georgians will travel 50 miles or more during the holiday weekend from June 30 to July 4. If achieved, this Independence Day will be the second busiest since 2000, a 3.3% increase from 2021, and more than a 4% increase from 2019 as travel volumes continue to trend upward.

“The volume of travelers expected over Independence Day is a definite sign that summer travel is kicking into high gear,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group in a press release over their research. “Earlier this year, we started seeing the demand for travel increase. Despite things costing more, people are finding ways to still take that much-needed vacation.”

Locally in Athens, the Historic Athens Welcome Center is preparing for a higher volume of incoming travelers as well. 

The Welcome Center “will be ensuring that all visitor materials are fully stocked, some even overstocked, in anticipation of an influx of people potentially coming to town on top of the locals who already use us as an information resource” said Welcome Center Information Specialist Caitlin Short. 

Short attributes some of this increased travel volume and buzz around the holiday weekend as a lingering effect of the pandemic. 

“Last July it seemed folks were still being reasonably cautious,” said Short. “I believe this July 4 will be different as so many have let their guards down, presumably due widely available vaccines and testing, and case numbers remaining relatively low.”

While no longer in the heart of the pandemic, drivers getting out to enjoy their holiday celebration will encounter a new villain this year, with Independence Day gas prices forecasted to be the most expensive for the holiday in history.  

Pump prices are 52% more expensive than in July 2021. As of June 20, the state average in Georgia was $4.47 compared to recent year's prices of a $2.91 average in 2021 and a $2.58 average in 2019.

While all modes of transportation are forecast to be above last year’s levels, auto travel accounts for over 90% of expected transportation for Georgians, and over 88% nationally. AAA predicts over 1.3 million Georgians will take a holiday road trip, accounting for the most drivers on record since 2001.

To help relieve some of this anticipated increase in road congestion, the Georgia Department of Transportation will help by suspending lane closures on Georgia interstates and state routes from July 1 at noon until 10 p.m. July 5.

This surge in driving in Georgia however is also predicted to be part of a parallel nationwide pattern.

AAA forecasts that 47.9 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home over the holiday weekend, accounting for a 4% national increase since 2021, and bringing travel volumes just under those seen pre-pandemic in 2019.

Because of this increased travel density, AAA expects drivers across America to encounter and plan for delays. 

“We expect nationwide travel times to increase about 50% compared to normal,” said Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst at INRIX in a report from AAA. “Drivers around major metro areas must be prepared for significantly more delays, up to double the travel times compared to a normal trip.”

Planning for when and where congestion might arise will be helpful in allowing drivers to avoid traffic.

Gas prices and high traffic volume may make it easier for drivers to lose patience this holiday. However, for all those traveling this Independence Day, whether locally to Athens or around the country, it is important to remember the preparations industries will be putting into making this holiday enjoyable for all, and their efforts of accommodating the high volume of travelers.