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Holiday gasoline prices look to be the highest seen in recent years. Still, a record 107.3 million Americans will be making extended treks to spend the yuletide with family and friends this year — the majority of them traveling by car, according to AAA.
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The national travel volume expected for Saturday through Jan. 1 reflects a 3 percent increase from last year. It marks the ninth consecutive season that year-end travel figures have grown — increasing by 21.6 million, more than 25 percent, since 2005, AAA notes.
“We’ve seen the strong economy and growing consumer confidence fuel holiday travel all year long,” said AAA Senior Vice President Bill Sutherland in a news release.
Gas prices aren’t a major concern for Kurt Druzgal, but he does plan ahead to avoid heavy traffic and other potential travel woes when he and his wife travel from Charleroi for Christmas visits with his parents in Indiana County.
“We try to stay out of Pittsburgh. We don’t want to go through Pittsburgh with the traffic,” Druzgal said. “We’ll go on (Interstate) 70 and some of the back roads, and normally we don’t run into traffic.”
Before the trip, he checks the condition of his tires and makes sure his windshield washer reservoir is full and ready for a potential winter storm.
“That slush, it’s awful,” he said.
Pennsylvania Turnpike officials are cautioning holiday motorists to be prepared for possible freezing rain or sleet in parts of the state on Friday and rain with the chance of a brief snowfall on Saturday.
The Turnpike Commission is expecting six million motorists to use its toll road during the holiday week that begins Friday. The heaviest traffic, 650,000 vehicles each day, is anticipated on Friday and Jan. 1. To prepare for all those extra vehicles, the turnpike will increase police, safety and maintenance patrols and will suspend work on all construction projects.
Of this year’s holiday travelers, AAA predicts 97.4 million will hit the road nationally, up by 3 percent from 2016, while 6.4 million — a 4.1 percent increase — will book flights.
A 2.2 percent uptick is expected in travel by other modes. Trains, buses or cruise ships will be the choice of about 3.6 million Americans.
AAA’s analysis finds that airfare and hotel rates, on average, have dropped by as much as 5 percent from last year.
But those who take to the highways in a rented car will be hit with a double whammy — higher prices at the pump and an average daily rental rate of $74, up by 11 percent.
Smartphone app GasBuddy projects that the national average gas price at Christmas will be $2.39 per gallon — down by 12 cents since Thanksgiving Day but up 11 cents from Christmas 2016. That’s the highest year-end price since $3.26, in 2013.
In Pennsylvania, GasBuddy notes gasoline prices early this week averaged $2.71 per gallon, though down by 1.5 cents per gallon from the previous week.
“I just wish they’d go way down,” said Richard Stitt of Blairsville, who is planning a 50-mile drive to Belle Vernon to see his daughter at Christmas.
He doesn’t expect traffic to be bad for his morning trip south, but he noted there may be more vehicles on the road when he returns home later in the day.
INRIX, a transportation analytics company that has collaborated with AAA, predicts travel times by car during the holiday week could be up to three times longer than usual.