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Brace yourself, Bellingham, for traffic nightmare of Fourth of July, Canada Day

The U.S.-Canada border crossing at Sumas, Monday, May 22, 2017. Border crossings will be busy this weekend – Canada Day falls on a Saturday, overlapping with the U.S. Independence Day travel period of June 30 to July 4.
The U.S.-Canada border crossing at Sumas, Monday, May 22, 2017. Border crossings will be busy this weekend – Canada Day falls on a Saturday, overlapping with the U.S. Independence Day travel period of June 30 to July 4. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Those traveling around northwest Washington for the Fourth of July weekend will be staring down a traffic bottleneck created by two national holidays, as our northern neighbors celebrate Canada Day on July 1.

Canada Day is the most popular weekend in the summer for Canucks to travel, according to a report on Canadian news network Global News. Since it falls on a Saturday, the three-day weekend in Canada lasts through Monday, overlapping with what’s considered the U.S. Independence Day travel period of June 30 to July 4.

In that time window a record number of U.S. travelers will venture beyond their homes, too, according to a forecast from auto club AAA.

An estimated 44.2 million people will take to the roads, skies, rails and waterways for the Independence Day holiday weekend, AAA says. That’s an increase of 1.25 million from last year, making it the most traveled Fourth of July weekend since AAA started counting.

So why is this year’s traffic expected to be worse than in the past?

“Combined, strong employment, rising incomes and higher consumer confidence bode well for the travel industry, in particular this Independence Day weekend,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president of Travel and Publishing, in a written statement.

Many U.S. travelers plan to drive – about 37.5 million people, or an increase of 2.9 percent from last year. That spike is fueled by cheaper gas. The national average price for gas is 4 cents less than this time last year. The national average price for a gallon of gas is $2.28, a historic low for the summer travel season.

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U.S.-Canada border crossing at Sumas, Monday, May 22, 2017. Border crossings will be busy this weekend – Canada Day falls on a Saturday, overlapping with the U.S. Independence Day travel period of June 30 to July 4. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

As of Wednesday, the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in Washington state is $2.80, according to AAA.

Daily car rental rates are also lower, averaging $65. That’s 14 percent less than last Independence Day.

Car rental searches in British Columbia are up 96 percent on travel website Kayak.com, with Vancouver, B.C., coming in as a top destination for those celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of a major milestone in the country’s independence.

Meanwhile, AAA lists Vancouver as the No. 2 spot for U.S. tourists on the Fourth, with Seattle taking the No. 4 spot. So border wait times in Blaine – the third-busiest crossing on the northern U.S. border on any given day – could drag on for about an hour or more at times over the long weekend. Mondays at the end of a holiday weekend tend to be especially busy, warns the Canada Border Services Agency.

There are a few ways to check the lines at the border.

Travelers can view Washington state traffic cameras at wsdot.com/traffic/border. Or the province of British Columbia has a site with cameras and historical data. U.S. Customs and Border Protection lists current wait times in tables that show how many lanes are open at a given crossing.

Both the U.S. and Canada border agencies have phone apps for wait times, too.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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