Fewer Labor Day travelers expected on roads, planes

Posted August 27, 2008 11:25 a.m. EDT

— Despite a significant drop in gas prices since last month, the number of people planning to travel over Labor Day is expected to decrease, following the downturn in travel in the two previous summer holidays, according to AAA.

About 720,300 North Carolina drivers are expected to travel more than 100 miles round-trip this weekend, a 0.08 percent decrease from the 2007 number of Labor Day road travelers, AAA said. An estimated 144,000 North Carolinians will travel by air.

“Travelers earlier this summer saw gas prices hit new record highs almost daily, and it forced many of them to change their vacation plans,” David Parsons, president and chief executive of AAA Carolinas, said in a statement.

The statewide average price of a gallon of gasoline in North Carolina is $3.607. Although prices are down 39 cents per gallon since July 4, they are still 94 cents a gallon higher than a year ago, Parsons said.

Nationally, the average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline is $3.667.

Lower prices may entice some drivers to decide at the last minute to travel over the holiday, Parsons said, and the state Department of Transportation will try to help ease traffic delays and make driving conditions safer.

Officials said Wednesday that most construction projects along interstate and U.S. highway routes across the state will be suspended from 4 p.m., Friday to 9 a.m. next Tuesday.

Lane closures are still planned for Interstate 85 in Vance County for paving work. The highway will be reduced to one lane in each direction from north of U.S. Highway 158 (mile marker 214) to south of the Granville County line (mile marker 208). Northbound traffic will be shifted to one of two lanes on the southbound side, and southbound traffic will remain in a single lane.

Motorists can expect delays on I-85 in that area and are encouraged to use an alternate route, officials said.

The DOT said that, although workers might not be present in the majority of work zones, drivers still might encounter narrowed lanes and traffic shifts. The penalty for speeding through a marked work zone is $250.

Air travel over the holiday weekend is projected to be down 3.7 percent from 2007.

“Air travelers will find air fares roughly 15 percent higher, despite the drop in the cost of oil,” Parsons said. “Airlines were hit hard by high fuel prices throughout the summer and they are expected to continue air fare hikes throughout the year.”

A decrease in the number of flights and route cancellations are other challenges to air travelers, he said, as well as new surcharges on many airlines that charge to check baggage, buy snacks or beverages, make reservations by phone and to reserve window or aisle seats.