Despite relatively high gas prices, transportation officials expect record vehicle traffic in Maine over the Labor Day weekend.

They also expect a large number of breakdowns and accidents, and they warned motorists to check vehicles for safety, to stay sober and put down the smartphones.

“There’s no reason not to believe that this will be the highest-trafficked Labor Day in Maine in history,” said Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority. “Every relevant period of time this year has been higher than last year.”

Mills said that as long as the weather forecast holds, the turnpike authority is expecting traffic volume to be higher than a year ago over Labor Day weekend. In 2017, turnpike toll transactions totaled less than 1.06 million over the Labor Day weekend, only a 0.5 percent increase from the year before. This year, turnpike officials expect a number closer to 1.2 million transactions.

As of Friday afternoon, the forecast for southern Maine called for partly cloudy skies and highs in the 70s for Saturday and Sunday, followed by a high in the mid-80s with scattered showers Monday.

“With Independence Day setting a travel record this summer, we expect Labor Day to also be extremely busy both on the highway and by air,” said Pat Moody, manager of public affairs for AAA Northern New England. He advised drivers to plan ahead to give themselves plenty of time to reach their destinations.

JETPORT TRAFFIC HEAVY

Increasing traffic volumes on the turnpike have led engineers to predict that some parts of the highway between South Portland and Falmouth will exceed its capacity within seven years if the road isn’t widened. A citizen advisory committee looked at 15 options to deal with future congestion, and concluded that expanding the four-lane highway to six lanes was the only way to fully address the issue. Turnpike traffic has been setting monthly records since 2016, according to the turnpike authority.

Traffic heads north on the Maine Turnpike in Kennebunk on Friday evening. Officials predict a record number of motorists this weekend.

Portland International Jetport Assistant Airport Director Zachary Sundquist said the jetport also is expecting passenger traffic to be at or near record levels for Labor Day weekend.

“On the actual holiday itself, traffic is normally a little light, but immediately up to and immediately following, we’re definitely looking at full flights,” he said. “We definitely have been operating at all-time highs.”

Sundquist advised jetport travelers to arrive at least 90 minutes before their scheduled flights this weekend and early next week, adding that passengers scheduled to depart Tuesday or Wednesday before 8 a.m. should arrive at least two hours early.

DEADLY TIME OF YEAR

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Labor Day weekend is one of the deadliest times of year in terms of impaired driving fatalities. During the 2016 Labor Day holiday period, 43 percent of nationwide crash fatalities involved drivers who were drunk.

AAA reminded motorists to stay safe over the long weekend by designating a sober driver, calling a cab or arranging to stay with a friend before kicking off their Labor Day celebrations. In a public service announcement, it noted that drug-impaired driving is just as dangerous as drunken driving. Illegal drugs, marijuana, prescription medication and even some over-the-counter drugs can affect driving, it said, adding that impaired driving is illegal and puts drivers, passengers and other road users at risk of serious injury or death.

Another anticipated problem transportation officials would like to avoid this weekend is crashes caused by drivers who aren’t paying attention because they are looking at mobile devices or engaging in some other activity.

“Distracted driving continues to be an issue,” said Ted Talbot, press secretary for the Maine Department of Transportation. “We encourage folks to pay attention and please take responsibility for your own car while watching out for others, because we have so many people coming from away, so many people coming into the state that are not familiar with our roadways and our interstate system.”

AAA TO THE RESCUE

AAA said it expects to rescue over 5,000 members in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont at the roadside around the Labor Day holiday. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons for service, it said.

One problem motorists should not expect to encounter in Maine over Labor Day weekend is traffic backups because of construction, Talbot said.

“Very often, most contractors, if they work at all on Friday, would leave the project by noontime” and not return until Tuesday, he said.

The average price for regular unleaded gasoline in Maine as of Thursday was $2.84 per gallon, which was 1 cent higher than a month ago and 45 cents higher than a year ago, AAA said. Nationally, consumers have seen the most expensive summer at the pump since 2014, with an average of $2.73 per gallon thus far, according to Boston-based mobile app maker GasBuddy.

AAA forecasts that local gas prices will decline through Labor Day and into the fall. Cheaper production, stable August crude oil prices and an anticipated drop in consumer demand will contribute to the decline. A September switchover from the more expensive summer blends to cheaper winter blends also will contribute to lower prices at the pump, it said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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