Vehicles are seen crossing the Piscataqua River Bridge into Maine in this 2015 file photo. Labor Day weekend is expected to draw nearly 350,000 cars into Maine this year.

Labor Day weekend is expected to draw nearly 350,000 cars to Maine, capping off the state’s busy summer tourist season, according to an official estimate.

But the boon to Maine’s economy comes with a grim downside, as the traffic-heavy holiday has seen at least one deadly car wreck a year since 2001, according to state-provided data. Forty-three people have died on Labor Day weekend in Maine over the past 17 years, state data show.

As of Aug. 31, Maine will head into this year’s holiday weekend with far fewer fatalities than last year, a particularly deadly year, according to the Maine Bureau of Highway Statistics. Overall, Maine traffic deaths have been rising annually since 2014, according to state data.

Eighty-five people have died so far this year on Maine roads, down from the 101 reported at this point in 2017. Just more than half of the deaths so far in 2018 — 45 — occurred during the summer months of June, July and August, the data shows.

Maine law enforcement increased patrols during August to spot impaired drivers, although Maine Bureau of Highway Safety Director Lauren Stewart wasn’t sure that’s why fatalities were down this year.

“I don’t have a concrete answer for why a drop this year when most states are seeing an increase from last year. But, we’ll take it!” she said.

Those looking to avoid traffic should hit the road early.

Friday afternoon was expected to see the heaviest congestion during the three-day weekend, especially on the northbound lanes of Interstate 95, according to the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Saturday and Sunday will see fewer cars on the road. On Monday, cars tend to head south primarily between noon and 7 p.m.

The estimated 349,000 cars passing through Maine highway tolls this Labor Day weekend will fork over an anticipated $1.2 million, the agency said.

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Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.