A man runs across a snow-coated street, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Norway, Maine.  Credit: Robert F. Bukaty/AP photo

Maine is expecting to see 20 percent more travelers on its highways this holiday weekend than it did last year, but traffic is still expected to stay well below 2019 levels.

The number of travelers on the Maine Turnpike is projected to remain 9 percent below pre-pandemic levels, which turnpike authority spokesperson Erin Courtney attributed to concerns about the virus, bad weather forecasted over the weekend and Christmas falling on a Saturday this year.

It comes as Maine sees record new cases and hospitalizations during the last month spurred by the delta variant. The omicron variant threatens to keep that trend going as it has quickly become the dominant strain in the country after being discovered just over a month ago.

Those factors are causing some Mainers to either cancel or scale back their holiday plans, although plenty will still be traveling. The turnpike anticipates Thursday will be the busiest travel day, with nearly a third of the 710,086 vehicles expected over the weekend passing toll booths.

Holiday traffic has rebounded in Maine throughout 2021. After a slower Memorial Day weekend and a slightly busier July Fourth weekend, Labor Day weekend saw a return to pre-pandemic levels as the volume of cases remained low through the summer. The Thanksgiving holiday weekend saw a 37.3 percent increase in traffic from 2020, according to turnpike data.

Public health experts have encouraged people gathering this year to limit the size of their gatherings. Gatherings with vaccinated people are far safer, but if there are unvaccinated members of your party – especially children under 5, who cannot be vaccinated – getting people tested is the next best option.