AAA says holiday travel will increase

AAA Travel projects 41 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Independence Day holiday weekend, a 1.9 percent increase from the 40.3 million people who traveled last year and a nearly 14 percent increase compared with the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

The majority of travelers will be celebrating their freedom with a road trip, with more than eight in 10 choosing to travel by automobile, the highest level since 2007.

The Independence Day holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, July 2, to Sunday, July 6.

“The Fourth of July holiday is typically the busiest summer travel holiday, with five million more Americans traveling compared to Memorial Day weekend,” AAA East Central President Jim Lehman said in a statement. “We are seeing increases across our region, particularly in auto travel, as many of us celebrate summer with an all-American road trip.”

AAA expects the majority of U.S. drivers likely will pay the highest gas prices for Independence Day since 2008. Today’s national average price of gas of $3.68 is about 20 cents per gallon more expensive than the average on July 4, 2013, which was $3.48 per gallon. In recent years, gas prices have declined in the weeks leading up to Independence Day, but this has not occurred this summer due to high crude oil costs resulting from violence in Iraq.

The price of regular unleaded gasoline in the Altoona area is $3.85 compared with $3.54 last year.

Meanwhile, The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission expects more than 2.7 million vehicles to be traveling the Turnpike over the July 4 holiday. That figure is up from the 2.5 million vehicles seen last year. With that volume of traffic expected, the PTC is asking motorists to stay alert and be aware of distracted drivers.

In preparation for the surge of traffic, Turnpike maintenance crews plan to maximize the use of the roadway by opening all available lanes to traffic through 6 a.m. on July 7 except in the case of emergencies. In the event of emergency-lane closures, the Turnpike will activate its Variable Message Signs and Highway Advisory Radio to alert motorists.

“We will have additional maintenance personnel available all next week right through the holiday weekend to patrol the road and help with any emergencies, debris removal or customer needs,” said Todd S. Garrison, director of maintenance in a statement.

As the holiday traffic increases, so will the patrols by the Pennsylvania State Police, which plans to have troopers out enforcing speed limit and no-texting laws.

“Speeding and texting while driving all lead to problems on the roadways,” said Captain Gregory M. Bacher of PSP Troop T in a statement. “Texting while driving and aggressive driving will not be tolerated, so motorists should expect to see our troopers out there in full force deterring this type of behavior.”

To promote safe driving, the Turnpike is sponsoring a “Safety Break” event at the South Midway Service Plaza on the eastbound Turnpike just past the Bedford Exit (#146) in Bedford County from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 3.