When turkey calls, travelers hit the road
BY SCOTT SHENK
Some 1.2 million Virginians will travel 50 miles or more during the Thanksgiving holiday, about a 2 percent drop from last year, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Virginia drivers are expected to buck the national trend, which calls for 44 million Americans to hit the road for the long weekend. That’s a slight increase in holiday travel over last year.
AAA’s national survey indicates that travelers will spend less and take shorter trips. Gas prices are the likely culprit, since some 90 percent of travelers will be driving.
Nationally, gas prices have dropped more than 30 cents a gallon in the past month, but the decrease follows record high prices. The cost at the pump now is slightly higher than 2011, said AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Martha Mitchell Meade.
Virginians, on the other hand, are getting a bit of a break with slightly lower prices at the pump than the same time last year.
AAA expects the national gas price average to drop to somewhere between $3.25 and $3.40 a gallon by Wednesday when the holiday travel period begins.
The national average cost for a gallon of regular stood at $3.42 early this week. Last year the price per gallon was $3.38.
In Virginia last year, the average gas price was $3.28 per gallon, compared to $3.24 now.
And in the Fredericksburg area, the current average of slightly less than $3.23 is virtually the same as last year.
Either way, gas prices are still high—the average price from 2007 to 2011 was $2.75, AAA said. And, as a result, median spending is expected to drop 10 percent compared with last year.
Meade said there are still positive signs, noting that travel numbers have continued a steady climb since 2008, when gas prices hit record highs and Thanksgiving holiday travel hit a 10-year low.
“The allure of the holiday feast and time with family and friends simply remains stronger than any negatives associated with traveling,” she said in a release.
ROAD WORK ON HOLD
Those driving this Thanksgiving will get a break on the interstates and major highways.
The Virginia Department of Transportation, and other state highway departments, will suspend lane closures in work zones for the holiday travel period.
VDOT’s suspension runs from noon Wednesday until noon Monday.
POLICE PUSH SAFETY
Expect to see more police patrolling major roads, especially the interstates.
The Virginia State Police beef up patrols during major holidays, and they’ll do that during the five-day Thanksgiving travel period.
Last year, the state police reported 884 crashes and nine deaths during the Thanksgiving period. None of the deadly crashes happened locally.
In Stafford County, the sheriff’s office will start an initiative this week aimed at drunken and drugged drivers.
Deputies will set up checkpoints on various roads in the county to catch drivers who’ve been drinking or using drugs.
The program will run through the New Year’s holiday.
TIPS FOR THE ROAD
For those trying to figure out when to leave, AAA reports that most travelers plan to depart home on Wednesday and return Sunday.
For those heading north, be prepared for the change to the HOV lanes on Interstate 495.
Those lanes are now express lanes that are electronically tolled and require vehicles to have an E-ZPass device.
Vehicles carrying at least three people can use the lanes free, but these vehicles must have an E-ZPass Flex transponder. Motorcyclists can ride the lanes free and do not need a transponder.
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436