Wednesday may be an awkward time for a day off from work, but Californians are expected to hit the road for this Fourth of July holiday in numbers not seen in almost a decade.
The annual travel forecast from AAA Northern California predicts 4.8 million in the state will leave town from Friday to Wednesday, an increase of 5.2 percent from last year and the most since 2003.
The uptick in travelers can be attributed to falling gas prices and the perception that the economy has finally started to stabilize, AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said.
“There’s a sort of a conscious optimism about what’s happening with the economy,” Harris said. “A lot of people have postponed or canceled their travel plans in recent years and are ready to finally take off.”
Another reason for the record numbers is that instead of the usual long weekend for the Fourth of July, some are taking advantage of the midweek holiday to get off of work for the entire week.
“It’s spurring people to travel because they feel they can take a few extra days,” Harris said.
But just because more Californians now feel they can afford a vacation, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking to save a few bucks.
“People are economizing in more ways than they ever did, staying with family and friends instead of booking hotels and choosing places where they can camp,” Harris said. “People are definitely staying close to home.”
Air travel and other forms of transportation, such as rail, bus and watercraft, are predicted to see 10 percent more passengers statewide than last year, according to the AAA survey.
San Francisco International Airport anticipates about 44,000 more fliers than last year for the holiday week, with the busiest days being June 29 and July 6, according to spokesman Charles Schuler.
In Oakland, the airport has also seen about 5 percent more passengers take to the skies compared with last year, though spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said she did not have specific estimates for the upcoming week.
“Fuel prices are coming down, and we certainly hope that airline fares will follow that soon,” she said. “People just want to get away – you get tired of staying home or the trips.”
Driving around the Bay Area shouldn’t be as challenging as it was over Memorial Day weekend, when the Dumbarton Bridge was closed for seismic strengthening. No major road closures or new roadwork are expected for the next few days, said California Highway Patrol Sgt. Diana McDermott.
Last year’s Fourth of July weekend was unusually deadly, McDermott said. Thirty-four people were killed in traffic collisions, up from 23 in 2010, and 80 percent of those killed last year may have survived if they were wearing seat belts, she said.
McDermott said the CHP arrested 1,562 for driving under the influence during last year’s holiday weekend. She also said that if drivers happen to find themselves on the Golden Gate Bridge when fireworks are shooting off from the Embarcadero, they need to remember to focus on the road.
“It’s not a good idea to slow down and start watching,” she said. “I’ve worked the San Francisco area on many July Fourths and that’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Neal J. Riley is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @realdealneal