Holiday travel forecast down for N.C.

Published 6:50 pm Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday travel this year will be down compared to last year due to above average unemployment, almost $1 more per gallon for gas and concern over the economy’s recovery, according to AAA Carolinas.

More than 3 million North Carolinians are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home, a decrease of 4.7 percent (150,000) from last year. More than 2.7 million are expected to drive during the 12-day holiday beginning December 23 and ending January 3, a 4.2 percent drop. Air travel is projected to decline 5.9 percent to 138,000 fliers.

An average of four traffic deaths a day have occurred during the past two years on North Carolina roads during this holiday period. AAA urges motorists to be patient with road congestion and obey all traffic laws.

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Our current economic conditions and future uncertainty are key components of travel expectations this year, says Dave Parsons, President and CEO of AAA Carolinas. The state’s economy is not recovering as quickly as hoped.

Travel predictions may be affected by severe winter weather. This past weekends storm may alter plans with lingering effects on the air travel and road conditions.

The average gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in North Carolina is 92 cents higher than this time last year. The most expensive average gas price in the state can be found in Charlotte at $2.60, and the least expensive average gas price is in High Point at $2.48.

Escalating airfares, smaller planes, fewer seats and a proliferation of extra fees has pushed some holiday air travelers to seek other forms of transportation. Almost one in four flights nationally have arrived late so far this year, according to an October Air Travel Consumer Report.

Carolina travelers are expected to log an average of 870 miles roundtrip during the holiday and spend an average of $934 per household for items such as fuel, accommodations, shopping, entertainment and other transportation costs. This is slightly below the national average expenditure of $1,009.

Holiday travelers can expect to pay a dollar more on average for a car rental this year – $50. Travelers seeking accommodations should expect average rates between 6 percent and 10 percent less, compared to last year for two and three diamond AAA rated properties, respectively.

North Carolina highways witnessed over 50 fatalities during the 2007 and 2008 winter holiday seasons. An average of almost 300 traffic injuries a day were reported in the state during the holidays. AAA Carolinas wants to remind everyone to drive carefully this year.

Drunk driving is a major problem during this travel period with holiday parties and New Year’s celebrations. Remember to secure a designated driver or call a cab if you are going to consume alcohol.

North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) reports that I-40 near the border with Tennessee will remain closed for the removal of boulders and debris over the holidays. Crews are still working to remove the remnants of the October rockslide. Those heading to Tennessee are instructed to take I-26 to I-81.

State highway construction projects will be suspended with the exception of U.S. 17 in Windsor (Bertie County). It is reduced to one lane on the Cashie River Bridge due to construction. Traffic is controlled by signals; however, trucks are restricted on this route and detour signs are in place. All motorists are encouraged to use the U.S. 17 Bypass around Windsor to avoid possible delays.

The NCDOT reminds motorists that all lanes of US 321 in Lenoir will remain open, and routine blasting for the widening project will cease until January 5.