In this July 3, 2018, file photo, cars travel on the Maine Turnpike. Credit: CBS 13

Maine Turnpike traffic is expected to nearly return to pre-pandemic levels this Memorial Day weekend as high vaccination rates and waning COVID-19 cases spur travel across Maine and the region.

The Maine Turnpike Authority expects traffic this weekend to be up 76 percent compared with last year, when Maine was limiting travelers from other states due to the coronavirus pandemic. Transaction numbers on the turnpike, which spans from the New Hampshire border to Augusta, are predicted to be only 3 percent lower than 2019, when the toll road saw a record of more than 1 million transactions.

The heaviest traffic northbound is expected Friday afternoon and evening, while the heaviest southbound traffic is expected Monday, particularly near the New Hampshire border. AAA projects that more than 37 million Americans — including 1.7 million New Englanders — will travel at least 50 miles from their homes this weekend.

In Maine, Memorial Day Weekend will be the first weekend after the state lifted most coronavirus-related business restrictions, including the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people and capacity limits for restaurants and retail establishments. Health officials have said that declining case numbers and the state’s high vaccination rate bode well for the tourism season as the state’s economy looks to bounce back from the pandemic-induced slowdown.