Thanksgiving travel expected to increase from last year

AAA Carolinas expects just over 1.4 million North Carolinians to travel this Thanksgiving holiday, with travelers visiting friends or family 50 miles or more from their homes.

“Despite recent increases in gas prices, more Carolinians than last year are carving out time to spend with friends and family this Thanksgiving,” said Dave Parsons, AAA Carolinas’ president and chief executive. “With so many Carolinians hitting the roads this holiday, we want to urge motorists to be safe and put down their mobile devices. Please disconnect and drive.”

AAA Carolinas — which defines the Thanksgiving holiday travel period as Nov. 23-27 — reported that travel is being spurred by improvements in the economy during the second half of the year, including rising wages, increased consumer spending and overall strength in consumer confidence.

Gas prices

Across the nation the national average price for a gallon of gasoline is $2.16, 11 cents more than the average price on Thanksgiving last year, which was $2.05. Most U.S. drivers will pay the second-cheapest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2008, when the national average was $1.85.

The average price for a regular gallon of gasoline in North Carolina was $2.11 Friday. The average in Asheville was $2.24 for a regular gallon of gasoline, which is up 9 cents from this time last year.

From a month ago, gas prices in Asheville have dropped by about 15 cents. As many motorists remember a September leak on the Colonial Pipeline in Alabama caused several local gas stations to run out of gas and raise gas prices. During a second pipeline disruption in October, some local stations saw gas shortages but prices remained steady overall.

On the road

Travelers driving in the eastern part of the state should be aware that 200 local roads are closed or have lane closures due to damage from Hurricane Matthew, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

There could also be smoky conditions and reduced visibility in Western North Carolina as several forest fires are expected to remain active. Roads could be closed due to shifting fires, smoke and safety reasons.

The N.C. Department of Transportation will be suspending most road construction on major routes throughout the state starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23 until midnight Sunday, Nov. 27.

The following construction projects are excluded from the suspension:

  • One lane is closed with portable traffic signals on U.S. 264 in Hyde County near Long Shoal River bridge, which is being replaced;
  • Eastbound U.S. 264 is closed with a detour near N.C. 99 in Beaufort County for a bridge replacement project;
  • N.C. 24 has a closure from Mitchell Loop Road to U.S. 421/701 Bypass in Sampson County, where crews are widening the eastbound lane within the city of Clinton;
  • In Brunswick County, a detour route is in place for Cedar Hill Road for a closure south of Royster Road NE while a bridge is being constructed, as well as other utility and road work related to the construction of  I-140 between U.S. 74/76 (Andrew Jackson Highway) to Cedar Hill Road;
  • N.C. 294 from Sunny Point Road to Upper Bear Paw Road in Cherokee County has a lane closure for a roadway realignment at Radford Road and Ware Road; and
  • One lane of U.S. 74 in Jackson County is shut down between Sugar Loaf Road and Mount Pleasant Road for a bridge replacement.

Drivers can get the latest travel updates for the route they want to use or the area they will be traveling in by using the drop-down menus in the travel section of the N.C. DOT website. Drivers can also call 511 to get the same up-to-date information if they are on the road. For anyone traveling outside of North Carolina call 877-511-4662.

To avoid traffic delays motorists should plan ahead. Here are some additional tips for safe driving during the holiday season:

  • Leave early to get a head start, and travel at non-peak hours if possible, as Wednesday afternoon/evening and Sunday afternoon/evening will be the heaviest traffic congestion periods;
  • Stay alert;
  • Be patient and obey the speed limit;
  • Use your seat belt, as the annual Thanksgiving Click It or Ticket campaign is in effect Nov. 21-27;
  • Use alternative routes to avoid traffic congestion;
  • Allow extra time for your travels, regardless of the route you choose;
  • To avoid drowsy driving, travel at times you are normally awake and take frequent breaks; and
  • Avoid distracted driving.

In the air

Air travel is expected to rise 1.6 percent, with 46,000 North Carolinians flying to their holiday destinations for Thanksgiving.

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, airfares are projected to rise 21 percent over the holiday, landing at an average of $205 for a roundtrip flight for the top 40 domestic routes. Rates for AAA Three Diamond Rated lodgings are expected to remain flat, with travelers spending an average of $155 per night.

The average rate for an AAA Two Diamond Rated hotel has risen 4 percent with an average nightly cost of $123. Daily car rental rates will average $52, which is 13 percent lower than last Thanksgiving.

At the Asheville Regional Airport, Thanksgiving is typically one of the biggest weeks of the year for air travel, said airport spokeswoman Tina Kinsey.

"Last year was a record year for passenger service and it looks like we are on track to have similar travel numbers this Thanksgiving," she said. "It will be very busy."

Travelers should plan enough time for parking, check-in and long security lines. The busiest days for air travel will be Nov. 23, 26 and 27, Kinsey added.

Copyright 2016 WCNC


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