An expected record number of Fourth of July travelers will be able to find cheaper gas prices this year than last, but will likely face congested traffic and rain during their holiday trips.
Roughly 2.1 million Ohioans are expected to travel for the holiday this week, a 4.9 percent jump from last year’s record breaking holiday travel. That includes a 1.86 million traveling by car and 92,000 flying, along with an increase in others who will take trains, buses and cruise ships, said Kara Hitchens, Miami Valley AAA spokeswoman.
“It’s still a good economy. Unemployment is low. Folks are just generally doing better and are ready to travel and enjoy themselves,” Hitchens said.
Despite a 10.5-cent gas-tax hike that took effect Monday, gas prices are lower than they were last year and seven of the last ten years, according to GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan.
Gas prices could jump a bit early this week because of the tax increase, though gas still isn’t expected to cost more than last year. Drivers heading out of state will likely find better deals at the pumps in Kentucky and West Virginia, but Ohio still has an advantage over Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania, DeHaan said.
“Because the gas tax came in July 1, most people have already planned their trip,” Hitchens said, so it won’t have much of an impact on travel this year.
The mid-week holiday has also encouraged travel because workers can take off Thursday and Friday and get a four-day vacation, she said. Wednesday is expected to be the busiest day for roadways and airports because it will mix travelers with usual commuters, along with Sunday as most people return.
Because of the expected increase in roadway congestion, Sgt. Chris Colbert with the Dayton post of the Ohio Highway Patrol said they have rearranged schedules and offered some overtime to have as many troopers on the roads as possible starting Wednesday.
“With the heavier amount of traffic we try to make sure that we have a very visible presence to try to get voluntary compliance from a large majority of people that are traveling,” Colbert said.
Troopers will be focused on “aggressive traffic enforcement” including looking for seat belts, OVI and crash-causing violations like distracted driving, speeding, failure to yield, following too close and left-of-center violations, he said.
Major concerns around the holidays are distracted driving, including looking at a GPS that’s not properly placed and making last-minute unsafe lane changes because of the directions, along with increased alcohol and drug use, Colbert said.
“A tragic crash is bad any time, but when it’s associated with a holiday, I can’t imagine really anything worse because there would be a constant reminder all year. So we’re trying to avoid all that,” Colbert said.
Drivers could also face rainy conditions in the afternoons and evenings, said Storm Center 7 meteorologist Jesse Maag. Dayton is exiting a heat wave and temperatures are expected to drop into the mid-80s later this week, but they will still be warm enough to cause some maintenance concerns and create thunderstorm activity beginning around noon every day through Saturday and lasting into the evening.
“We’ve had some really hot days, and we know that batteries tend to fail during hot days. Batteries are really put under a lot of stress in the heat, as well as tires,” Hitchens said.
Drivers should make sure they get their oil and other fluid levels checked before hitting the road, she said.
Travelers also need to put food and water in their vehicles in case they become stranded during hot days, Colbert said.
“When you’re planning your trip, just make sure you plan extra time so you don’t get caught up in a rush. Make sure you get plenty of rest,” Colbert said.
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