Millions of New Englanders will take to the roads and airways this holiday season, creating one of the biggest travel periods on record, experts predict.

About 4.8 million people in New England will travel at least 50 miles from home this week through Jan.1 , AAA said. The projected number of travelers will be up almost 3.5 percent from last year, making the upcoming week one the busiest travel periods since the association began keeping records 19 years ago, said Pat Moody, manager of public affairs for AAA Northern New England.

“This is certainly a reflection of the economy at large,” Moody said. Nationally and in Maine, unemployment is at a historic low, wages and personal income are growing, and gas prices are stable. These factors combine to make Americans more confident about spending money to travel, Moody said.

AAA has tracked record-breaking travel on all major holiday periods in 2019, he added.

“People are interested in getting out there and traveling and spending time with friends and family, and they are doing it more now than they have in the last few years,” Moody said.

Nationally, 115.6 million people are expected to travel for the holidays, the vast majority by car. That is likely to create some congestion around major cities, especially on Thursday and Friday, according to INRIX, a traffic analytics firm.

Congestion around Boston should peak from 4-6 p.m. Friday, creating delays 1.5 times longer than normal, INRIX said. Delays around New York City and Washington, D.C., could be three times longer than normal during evening rush hours.

“With kids out of school and many Americans taking extended time off for the holidays, drivers will experience only incremental delays throughout the week,” INRIX transportation analyst Trevor Reed said in a news release. “Although congestion will be lighter than normal, knowing when and where major delays will happen will save time and reduce stress this holiday season.”

The Maine Turnpike Authority did not respond to inquiries for traffic projections. As of November, toll transactions were up 2.4 percent over 2018, according to turnpike financial records. December is typically a moderately busy month for passenger and commercial vehicles on the turnpike.

All six travel lanes on the Piscataqua River Bridge, which carries Interstate 95 traffic between Maine and New Hampshire, will remain open from Tuesday through Sunday, according to the Maine Department of Transportation. The bridge has experienced weekday lane closures since October as part of a $52.6 million renovation project.

Weather, a perennial concern for travelers this time of year, should cooperate until at least early next week, according to forecasts.

“The next few days all look reasonably quiet,” said William Watson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray. “Our next significant change of precipitation is Thursday night into Friday (and) that is generally more so northern New Hampshire and northwest Maine.”

The rest of the week is forecast to be clear or partially clear with daytime highs between 49 degrees Monday to 37 degrees Friday and cooler at night, between 30 degrees and 19 degrees.

Nearly all New England travelers, about 4.1 million, will go by car, AAA said. But the number of people choosing to fly, both regionally and nationally, has increased noticeably from previous years, Moody said.

In New England, around 454,000 leisure travelers will fly to their destination, a 6 percent increase from last year, according to AAA projections. Nationally, about 7 million Americans will fly, almost 5 percent more than the same period last year.

At the Portland International Jetport, the holiday season’s heaviest air traffic will be inbound to Portland on the Monday and Tuesday before Christmas, said Zachary Sundquist, the airport’s assistant director. Outbound traffic will be heaviest on Thursday through Sunday after Christmas, he said, adding that passengers should arrive at least 90 minutes before departure on those days to guarantee making their flights on time.

Sundquist said a total of about 37,800 airline seats have been booked to and from the jetport for the coming week, which is less than a normal summer week in which about 63,500 seats are booked. Last year, December was the third-slowest month of the year by passenger counts, with 149,757 people transiting through the jetport.

Increased air travel is another indicator of consumer confidence in the economy, Moody said.

“When people are doing a little better financially, they are more likely willing to go with a more expensive travel option, like taking an airplane over a car,” he said.


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