If you’re planning a Memorial Day trip this weekend, you may want to plan for busy roads, according to AAA Carolinas.
In addition, the North Carolina Highway Patrol is promising to step up enforcement over the weekend to keep crowded roads safe.
AAA issued a press release Wednesday predicting a recent slide in gas prices coupled with positive indications on the state’s job front will lead to about a 3 percent increase in holiday weekend travel over last year.
Since peaking on May 13, statewide gas prices have declined 12 cents, and the unemployment rate has dropped 1.5 percent since April 2010.
“We’ve found that employment status affects vacation travel more than gas prices,” AAA Carolinas President and CEO David Parsons said. “Despite gas prices just shy of a dollar higher than last year, AAA hotel bookings, rental car reservations and personalized trip routings are all up over last year.”
A survey of AAA customers showed 88 percent of those traveling 50 miles or more will drive, with only a small percentage of travelers setting out on Thursday.
The company also reported air travel is up despite rising fares, and about 60,000 are expected to travel by bus, train or ship to their holiday destinations.
North Carolina Highway Patrol Traffic Safety Information Officer Trooper Mark Helms said there will be more troopers out on the roads, too.
“Troopers across the state will increase patrols on the interstates and major four-lane highways during the holiday weekend,” Helms said Wednesday.
He explained that 11 motorists died in Memorial Day traffic accidents last year, while another 354 were injured.
“Speed is a leading cause of traffic collisions and fatalities in the state,” Helms continued. “We encourage motorists to obey the speed limit signs, and also to make sure that when you are following another car you at least two to three seconds behind them because we have a lot of rear-end collisions out there when the roads are congested.”
Gasoline prices dropped 10 cents in the past week, and now average about $3.80 a gallon across the state. South Carolina has the nation’s lowest average price for a gallon of gasoline at $3.59.
AAA attributed the drop to a slight decrease in demand and resurgent worries about the economic state of several European nations, which have recently driven down oil prices.
“Travelers are watching their gasoline budgets and in many cases shifting discretionary vacation spending to cover gasoline and transportation costs,” Parsons said.
Most construction projects along interstate, N.C. and U.S. routes will be suspended beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 27 until 9 a.m. Tuesday May 31, but there are two exceptions along U.S. 17 in the eastern part of the state.
U.S. 17 in Windsor County will be reduced to one lane on the Cashie River Bridge due to construction. Motorists are encouraged to use the U.S. 17 Bypass around Windsor to avoid delays.
Also, traffic on the Buddy Phillips Bridge in Jacksonville is reduced to one lane in each direction on U.S. 17 Business for bridge construction.
Helms reminded motorists the North Carolina Highway Patrol can be reached by cell phone anywhere in the state by dialing “*HP.”
“You can use that to contact the Highway Patrol and report an impaired driver, a traffic accident or stranded motorist,” he explained.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 15, or by e-mail at email@example.com.