Higher gas prices not expected to deter holiday travel

Despite gas prices reaching their highest peak since 2014, more Ohioans are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend than in the last 13 years.

Even though AAA reported a national average of $2.961 for regular unleaded, the auto club expects a 4.6 percent increase or about 73,600 more Ohio travelers than the nearly 1.53 million last year. Nationally, the number of travelers is expected to increase 4.8 percent over or nearly 1.9 million more than last year’s 39.3 million. Those numbers are estimated through economic analysis and surveys by IHS Markit and DK Shifflet & Associates.

Travel over the summer will likely be unaffected by prices already at the $3 per gallon mark and above in some areas, said Kimberly Schwind, AAA Ohio spokeswoman.

“When you look at the overall vacation budget, fuel is a relatively small portion of that travel budget,” Schwind said. “They’ll still pay it because they want to get out for their vacation.”

AAA reported a statewide average of $2.882, a nearly 7 cent increase from last week, according to a survey by GasBuddy. Schwind said prices are unlikely to decrease in the foreseeable future.

About 90 percent of travelers from Ohio will be driving. With 1.5 million drivers on the road, Schwind said to expect significant traffic and delays, with peak travel times during late afternoon and early evening Thursday and Friday.

“The biggest thing is to pack your patience, especially if you’re going to be traveling during those peak travel times,” Schwind said.“Travel at other times during the day if you want to avoid traffic.”

AAA expects to assist 340,000 motorists nationwide this weekend for issues including dead batteries, locked doors and flat tires. Schwind recommended getting cars tuned up before travel, as well as packing emergency kits.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is doing an “unprecedented” amount of work statewide, said spokesman Matt Bruning, with construction costs around $2.3 billion.

“You will see more orange barrels in general when you drive around,” Bruning said. “We’ll try to reduce those and open more lanes (for the holiday weekend), but that’s not always possible, so we just advise to pay extra attention.”

Bruning recommended utilizing ODOT’s OHGO app, which allows travelers to view real-time traffic and construction plots.

ODOT is working with the State Highway Patrol to remind drivers to buckle up. Last year, there were 471 unbuckled deaths in Ohio.

“These aren’t just numbers,” said the patrol’s Sgt. Tiffiany Meeks. “These are lives tragically lost. Wearing a safety belt is one of the easiest things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your loved ones.”

Meeks said that while the State Highway Patrol does not have any impaired driver checkpoints planned for the weekend, they will have full patrols and will be “highly visible.”

“Plan, prepare and be patient,” Meeks said. “Expect construction. … Be mindful of traffic pattern changes.”

Originally published for The Columbus Dispatch on May 24, 2018.

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