Traffic delays, storms likely to accompany Fourth of July travel surge
More than 1.7 million Michiganians are taking a vacation this week to celebrate Independence Day, enjoying the fruits of lower unemployment, robust consumer spending and rising disposable incomes, according to AAA Michigan.
The motor club notes that's a 4.4% increase from last year.
“As Independence Day approaches, it’s time for the much-loved family road trip, and this year will be one for the record books, with more Americans than ever planning vacations,” said Paula Twidale, vice president of AAA Travel.
“This holiday builds on the strong travel demand seen for Memorial Day, and with schools now out of session across the country, families coast to coast are eager to travel.”
And a record-breaking number will do so by car. Roughly 1.5 million Michiganians will vacation by hitting the road because of lower gas prices. While gas prices are expected to climb 9 cents heading into the holiday to about $2.79 per gallon, prices are about 20 cents less than the same time last year.
“Gas prices are, on average, 19 cents cheaper than Memorial Day weekend, which is welcome news for motorists hitting the road to celebrate the July Fourth holiday,” AAA Michigan spokeswoman Adrienne Woodland said. “More so, summer gas prices are poised to continue dropping even lower in coming weeks.”
But those in Michigan might want to bring raincoats and entertainment for the car rides, as thunderstorms and traffic delays could be major themes for the record-setting week of travel.
Traffic will be especially bad around Metro Detroit, with Wednesday afternoon being the worst time for travel. Vacationers and commuters in Detroit can expect delays twice as long as normal that day because of increased traffic.
The Michigan Department of Transportation will pause more than two-thirds of its road and bridge projects statewide to ease traffic delays for holiday travelers.
Beginning at 3 p.m. Wednesday and continuing until 6 a.m. Monday, 101 out of 143 projects statewide will have lane restrictions removed. However, ongoing roadwork on freeways around Metro Detroit might cause delays.
In Oakland County, Interstate 75 will only have two lanes open in each direction between Chrysler Drive and Square Lake Road. In Wayne County, I-75 has the northbound and southbound ramps to westbound I-94 closed and detoured.
In addition to the increase of Michiganians getting behind the wheel, about 72,000 are taking to the skies, a 5% jump from 2018. The nation's most popular destinations include sunny locales such as Orlando, Honolulu, Las Vegas and Maui, according to AAA Travel.
For travelers heading to Michigan's always popular lakeshore destinations, be sure to bring a precautionary rain jacket, as sporadic thunderstorms could interrupt boat trips or beach excursions.
The National Weather Service predicts possible showers and afternoon thunderstorms throughout the week in Traverse City, with lows in the mid-60s and highs in the mid-80s. The weather service predicts similar weather for Mackinac Island and Saugatuck.
Those staying in Metro Detroit should also plan for the occasional evening thunderstorm throughout the week. The weather service forecasts showers and a possible thunderstorm for Independence Day, with highs near 90 degrees.
Michigan's 103 parks and 138 campgrounds will be considerably busier than last year, as reservations are up 9% for the July 4 to July 6 period. The DNR's campgrounds have a 94.5% occupancy rate.
Interlochen, Ludington, Traverse City and Holland are among the most popular sites this year, according to Christa Sturtevant-Goode, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
While many of the most popular sites are fully booked, last-minute planners can go to the DNR's website to search which parks still have available spots and equipment.
Jim VanWinkle and his wife, Cherille, made the trip up to the Great Lakes State to camp all the way from Marysville, Ohio, outside Columbus. He said he and his wife have been enjoying the weather and spending time with their family.
“We’ve been getting a lot of travel in. I retired in 2013, my wife taught school for 35 years, so we’re enjoying some camping with our kids and grandkids," he said Monday. "We arrived late Sunday and heading to Sleeping Bear (National Lakeshore) this afternoon.”
Northern Michigan continues to be a popular in-state destination for vacationers hoping to enjoy Michigan's abundance of freshwater. Perry Olson of Bingham Farms said he and his wife, Milly, travel up north every year.
“We have a 24-foot pontoon boat and Elk Lake is right behind our camping site here at Whitewater Township Park," Olson said. "We love this park and all the great people we meet. We camp a half-dozen times a year with our kids.”
Detroiters who have to work or decide to stay in town will have plenty of opportunities to join in the holiday festivities.
A number of musical artists will be making the Detroit stop on their tours this week, including .38 Special at the MGM Grand Detroit; Jennifer Lopez at Little Caesars Arena; Dirty Heads at DTE Energy Music Theatre; and Sublime with Rome at the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill.
For those who missed out on last week's downtown fireworks, there will be no shortage of pyrotechnics lighting up the sky around the Detroit area. Shelby Township, Brownstown Township, Dearborn and Clawson are among the many communities with their own Independence Day fireworks.
The Henry Ford Museum will commence its annual "Salute to America" celebration with a fireworks show and a performance by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The celebration begins Wednesday and runs through Saturday at the museum's Greenfield Village in Dearborn.
Anyone interested in seeing a dirt bike Globe of Death, demolition derby and lawn mower rodeo in addition to the traditional red, white and blue fireworks should check out the Oakland County Fair, which kicks off this Friday in Springfield Township.
Over 106,000 attended last year's event, said Sara Ressler, assistant general manager of the fair. She said new attractions, including a monster truck show, should bring out even more guests.
"We're just a wholesome family event that has something for everyone to enjoy," Ressler said.
Michigan photojournalist John L. Russell contributed.