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Memorial Day weekend travelers on Bay Bridge have new lane control system

6% more drivers will be on the road this holiday weekend, according to the AAA.

GRASONVILLE, Md. — More than 1 million Washington metro area residents will join the 42.3 million Americans, who are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day holiday weekend, according to AAA-Mid Atlantic.

The travel advocacy group says that's an increase of more than 6% over last year for D.C. area travel, but still 6% less than pre-pandemic holiday travel in 2019. 

Most summer travelers will be driving, according to the AAA's annual survey.

Nearly 905,000 Washington metro area residents are predicted to be on the road this holiday weekend to drive to their holiday destination. The number accounts for nearly 90% of Washington-area residents who will travel over the holiday weekend.

Gas prices are a factor.

The Washington metro area average is trending about $1.17 per gallon less than last year at the same time. Gas prices in the region averaged $3.47 per gallon on Tuesday.

Authorities gathered Wednesday near Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Bridge to urge drivers to pack patience and keep safety in mind when crossing the state's notorious choke point for drivers headed to beach resorts.

This will be the very first summer travel season where a new $58 million automated system for managing lanes on the bridge will be fully up and running.

The Maryland Transportation Authority's Automated Lane Control System (ALCS) features a gantlet of new signs, lights, lane markings and brightly lit 22 swinging gates. 

ALCS is the latest attempt to smooth the flow across the bridge where overflow traffic headed to beach resorts is diverted onto the third lane of the eastbound span.

Portions of the ALCS system went live in December.

Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief Kevin Anderson says there have already been accidents involving the gates, but that overall safety and traffic efficiency has been improved because workers are not required to go into the roadway to adjust cones and barrels.

The gates swing automatically to redirect traffic.

"We haven't had a full data study yet, but hopefully we'll find that that the turn around time of opening and closing those lanes is more efficient and lets traffic flow more efficiently," Anderson said.

Around 325,000 vehicles are expected to cross the bridge this holiday weekend, according to the AAA.

On Kent Island – glimmers of hope that the $58 million ALCS project that took two years to build will at least ease some of the backups cause during lane transitions.

Resident Steve Arendt – a state delegate – is exasperated by the local gridlock – caused when frustrated travelers try side roads to avoid backups approaching the bridge.

"It can be horrible," Arendt said. "I live down by the emergency room, and I can tell you on a Sunday coming back from my house just to get up to the bridge, it took me an hour and a half one day."

Again this summer, local police and sheriff's deputies will be positioned on exits to discourage travelers from attempting side road detours.

The message from authorities – from the lieutenant governor to executives with AAA – was pack your patience and try to plan bridge crossings during off-peak hours early and late to make the trip easer.

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