Gas prices cut allure of beach weekend

Posted May 23, 2008 6:20 a.m. EDT
Updated May 23, 2008 5:55 p.m. EDT

— As Memorial Day weekend – and the summer vacation season – got under way Friday, gas prices inching closer to $4 a gallon made trips to North Carolina beaches harder on the pocketbooks of vacationers.

Statewide, the price of gas ranges between $3.83 and $3.89 a gallon, with the cheapest prices along the coast, according to AAA. Nationally, the average is $3.83.

The prices compare with $3.14 a gallon in Raleigh and $3.21 nationwide for Memorial Day weekend a year ago. Some analysts said the price could top $4 a gallon in North Carolina as early as next week.

"Not only has the gas prices affected us actually getting here, but it affected how much we spend on groceries," said Becky Millirons, who said her family drives from Virginia every year to vacation in Nags Head.

"Usually, we'll go out to eat at least once, but (Thursday) night at the grocery store, we were, like, 'Maybe we should buy some more meals and just cook in,'" Millirons said.

A group of Ohio University students who drove to the Outer Banks for a surfing trip said they got an economics lesson on their holiday.

"It's definitely changed my mindset. I was kind of bummed out, having to fork out so much money to support this trip," student Aaron Reick said.

Student Mike Tucker said gas money cost him and his friends about $25 each.

"That's beer money for the weekend," Tucker said.

AAA said 380,000 fewer people were expected to travel nationwide this weekend compared with last Memorial Day, marking the biggest drop since 1998.

The average trip will be 250 miles, about half the distance of last year, AAA said.

Nearly 805,000 North Carolina drivers were expected to hit the road Friday – roughly about the same number as last year.

Outer Banks tourism officials said bookings for summer vacations appear to be strong, but they said some owners of beach houses are offering gas cards to vacationers to help book rentals.

To help ease highway congestion, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has suspended most road construction until 9 a.m. Tuesday. One exception will be on southbound Interstate 85 in Vance County, where traffic will be cut to one lane from mile marker 214 to 208.

The DOT also warned of delays in Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties because of race weekend events at Lowe's Motor Speedway, south of Concord. Congestion will be heavy on I-85 and U.S. Highway 29, officials said.

The state Highway Patrol said it would work with other agencies to operate seat-belt checkpoints and would increase patrols during the weekend. Last year, 19 motorists were killed and 707 were hurt in Memorial Day weekend accidents, troopers said.