An SUV heads toward Tillamook on Highway 6 - a route that will be clogged with traffic this holiday weekend if past experiences hold true. Photo: Brenda Schaffer

OREGON - The Continental Congress declared freedom from a tyrannical British government on July 2, 1776, and fully adopted the document known as the Declaration of Independence two days later on July 4, 1776.

We've been dealing with the traffic ever since.

Nearly 250 years later, Americans celebrate by lighting off fireworks, barbecuing, going to parades, and drinking — a lot — at various patriotic and family gatherings.

And, according to AAA, families are increasingly taking to the road to get to their celebration of choice, with projections this year poised to break travel records held since the motor club began tracking holiday traffic on America's birthday celebration in 2000.

According to AAA, 48.9 million Americans, or 14.8% of the population, will travel on the Independence Day weekend, defined as Wednesday, July 3 to Sunday, July 7.

In Oregon, roughly 583,000 folks will hit the roads or (train tracks) to get to a destination, with the majority traveling by car.

That's the equivalent of nearly the entire population of the city of Portland (647,805) traveling this weekend.

“The 4th of July is traditionally the busiest travel holiday of the summer as folks enjoy fireworks, family and fun. This is the sixth year in a row we’re seeing a jump in the number of travelers for the holiday,” says AAA Oregon/Idaho Public Affairs Director Marie Dodds. “Strong economic fundamentals are driving the travel boom. Consumer optimism and additional disposable income are encouraging people to spend their money on things like travel.”

Oregon's gas prices have dropped slightly, though still 55 cents above the national average, sitting at $3.23 for a gallon of regular fuel, according to AAA.

The busiest travel day is today - Wednesday, July 3. As the afternoon commute starts, holiday travel will add to the mix, making between 2 and 6:30 p.m. the worst time to travel, according to AAA.

AAA recommends travel be done in the early mornings, and on the morning of the actual holiday on July 4, when traffic is traditionally a bit lighter than other times.

Visit Tripcheck.com for updates on ODOT maintained highways within Oregon, wsdot.com/traffic for Washington travel, hb.511.idaho.gov for Idaho-based traffic alerts, www.chp.ca.gov/traffic for California-bound traveling, and nvroads.com for alerts on Nevada traveling.

Other dangers: Drunk driving and car crashes

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) warns that Independence Day holiday travel comes with a spike in traffic fatalities caused by impaired drivers.

In the last five years, ODOT says, 38 people have died on Oregon roadways, with 23 of those deaths from crashes involving alcohol.

"It’s a tragic way to mark the country’s independence, and perhaps the saddest part is that it doesn’t have to happen. If you get behind the wheel of a car when you are impaired – whether by alcohol, marijuana, prescriptions or illegal drugs – you are making a choice that could end someone’s life, including your own," the state highway agency said in a press release.

This year, like past years, local police agencies are attempting to reduce impaired driving with enhanced patrols in the area. The Washington County Sheriff's Office is partnering with ODOT, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Oregon State Sheriff's Association in an attempt to crack down on impaired drivers.

ODOT provided a few tips to avoid impaired driving:

-- Get a ride. With all kinds of ride-sharing options, get one or more apps on your phone or program in some alternatives so you can easily get a ride. Going to an event? Check out our new, online ride-sharing service, Get There, to arrange safe, sober travels. 

-- Hosting a party? Offer plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and lots of snacks. Remove the alcoholic beverages several hours before the gathering end-time.

-- If someone has been drinking and is about to drive, take the keys away and make arrangements to get your friend home safely.