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Holiday turnpike travel hits highest level in decade

By Andrea Lannom

Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY, W. Va. — More people traveled along the West Virginia turnpike during the six-day Thanksgiving holiday travel period this year than any year in the past decade.

Gregory Barr, general manager of the West Virginia Parkways Authority, said the good weather and lower gas prices could have led to this increase in holiday traffic.

There were 774,000 total transactions for the four toll booths – Chelyan, Pax, North Beckley and Ghent.

Transactions reached 178,000 last Wednesday, dipped to 74,000 on Thanksgiving day and then peaked on Sunday at 179,500.

“It was a very good travel period,” Barr said. “The weather was good, gas prices were the lowest in years and that contributed to a 3 percent increase over last year.”

Barr said last year’s Thanksgiving holiday experienced a 6 percent increase from the year before. The biggest travel years, Barr said, were back in 2006 and 2009, which this year surpassed.

Barr said although he hadn’t checked records before 2006, he remembered that year plus 2009 to be record years for travel with 774,000 transactions in 2006 and 772,000 in 2009.

On an average day, there are about 100,000 transactions.

“It was a very busy weekend for us in a good way,” Barr said. “And it looks like we have a new record for transactions for those six days. It’s trending in the right direction for travel and toll revenues.”

For the year, the average for EZ Pass traffic is 35 percent but that number goes down in the summer or during holiday periods, Barr said. The reason, he said, is because there aren’t as many truckers on the road, who make up 25 percent of EZ Pass traffic.

He said most holiday traffic consisted of out-of-state travelers, who make up 75 percent of transactions for the year.

“It’s a good sign that things are picking up,” Barr said. “People are anxious to travel and get out to visit family.”

AAA predicted a high amount of people traveling over the holidays, stating in a news release last week that 1 million more people than last year would travel during the holidays.

AAA said this marks a 1.9 percent increase over last year and is the most Thanksgiving travelers expected since 2007.

The reason for this increase, the AAA release stated, could be contributed to improvements in the economy including increased wages, spending and consumer confidence.

“I know West Virginia is suffering more than most states around us because it’s an energy state,” he said. “Coal is in bad shape. Some of the surrounding states aren’t as reliant on energy production as us so they’re not feeling as hurt as West Virginia.”

Lower gas prices also could have contributed, Barr said. AAA said Thanksgiving gas prices were the second-cheapest in nearly a decade with the national average price for a gallon of gas as $2.16. Gas prices in West Virginia last week averaged $2.15, according to AAA data.

And even with more people on the road, there was not a corresponding increase in traffic accidents. In fact, Barr said, there were few accidents during the six-day period and no fatalities.

“There were slowdowns, especially on Wednesday and Sunday, but nothing was really, really bad that ruined the travel period,” Barr said.

The Thanksgiving period is the top for turnpike travel for the year, Barr said, beating out the 10-day Christmas period. During this period, Barr said the turnpike experiences an average of 120,000 transactions a day, dipping to its very lowest for the year at 54,000 on Christmas day.

“The Christmas period is a 10-day period with an average of 120,000 a day,” he said. “Any time between December 19 and Dec. 28 is really busy but it’s a constant.”

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