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Officials predict slight uptick in holiday travel

By FRED PACE

The Herald-Dispatch

BECKLEY, W.Va. — According to the West Virginia Parkways Authority, more than 700,000 toll transactions will happen on the West Virginia Turnpike over the Thanksgiving holiday travel period.

“We look at Tuesday before Thanksgiving through the Sunday after it for traffic transaction counts on the West Virginia Turnpike,” said Greg Barr, general manager of the Parkways Authority. “We are expecting a slight increase when compared to last year, around 1 to 2 percent, but nothing major.”

In 2016, traffic along the 88-mile highway for the six-day period ending Sunday increased nearly 2.6 percent compared with 2015. Barr says the number of toll transactions was nearly 783,000 last year.

Barr says weather, fuel prices and overall economic conditions play a role in the number of traffic transactions each year.

“In 2014, Thanksgiving week traffic barely topped 722,000 transactions as predictions of a major winter storm in the region put a damper on travel plans,” he said. “The storm never materialized, but the threat contributed to the lowest Thanksgiving holiday traffic on the turnpike in years.”

This year, mostly dry weather is predicted, which should encourage holiday travel, Barr said.

“On Tuesday, traffic starts to pick up for those leaving the state,” he said. “Sunday, when folks begin to return home, is the busiest travel day.”

Barr recommends leaving early on Sunday to come home or leaving much later in the evening.

“From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday is the busiest,” he said. “If you want to avoid delays, I recommend traveling either before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.”

Across the U.S., the 2017 holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005 with 1.6 million more people expected to take to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways compared with last year, according to AAA.

AAA projects 50.9 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 3.3 percent increase over last year.

While AAA expects most U.S. drivers will pay the highest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2014, the vast majority of holiday travelers are still planning to hit the road.

“Automobile travel will grow by 3.2 percent this Thanksgiving, with 45.5 million Americans planning a holiday road trip,” the AAA report said. “Despite recent declines in the national average price for gasoline, the residual impact of recent months’ hurricanes linger.”

Monday’s national average price was $2.542, which is 40 cents more than last year.

“An uptick in the economy has given travelers plenty to be thankful for this year, and we expect travel to remain plentiful through the holidays” said Jim Lehman, president of AAA East Central. “Most Americans can enjoy time spent with friends and family.”

Carrie Jones, communications specialist for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, said there is always some road work or construction going on throughout the state.

“We always encourage travels to visit www.wv511.org for real-time traffic information and road conditions,” she said. “The WV511 Drive Safe app is also available for download on smartphones for free. Information is also available by calling 511.”

AAA also suggests before setting out for the long Thanksgiving weekend that people download the free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. Travelers can use the app to map a route, find the lowest gas prices, access exclusive member discounts, make travel arrangements, request AAA roadside assistance, find AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities and more.

Learn more online at AAA.com/mobile.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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