AAA is projecting a record of more than 115 million travelers this holiday season. Both AAA and the Ohio Department of Transportation say the heaviest travel days for motorists may come this weekend. MARSHALL GORBY/STAFF

Record holiday travel could bring delays, test patience

Patience and planning are recommended as a record number of travelers are expected to be on the road or in the air this holiday season.

The busiest times for the 115.6 million projected travelers will start Saturday. And, if history repeats, the heaviest Ohio highway traffic volumes will come on back-to-back Sundays, according to transportation professionals.

Road safety is also being emphasized. AAA estimates one in three people are expected travel between Saturday and Jan. 1, with the vast majority being motorists at a time when Ohio has seen OVI-related deaths rise the past two years, according to the highway patrol.

“Know that regardless of the mode of travel, it will be busy, and travelers are encouraged to mentally prepare for the challenges that are likely to occur,” according to AAA’s Cindy Antrican.

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“Patience will be the key to a less stressful travel experience,” she said. “If possible, make travel plans that avoid the busiest times.”

Saturday through Monday “could see an influx of people in airports and on the road,” according to AAA.

Nationally, more than 100 million motorists will hit the roads and almost 7 million – the most in the U.S. since 2003 - will fly, AAA figures show.

To help trim travel wait times, those flying should review items prohibited by the Transportation Security Administration before leaving for the airport by going to tsa.gov, said Linda Hughes of the Dayton International Airport.

“Go through all of your luggage before packing for your trip to assure that you’ve left no prohibited items in luggage,” Hughes said.

And, she added, “Pack your patience!”

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Air travelers should plan to be in the airport lobby no fewer than 90 minutes prior to scheduled flights as most airlines will stop checking in bags 45 minutes prior to departure times, she said.

Sunday is expected to be the busiest day for holiday travel that week, according to AAA.

That’s consistent with historical data from the Ohio Department of Transportation. In 2013, the last year Christmas was on a Wednesday, traffic volumes compared to a normal day increased 26 percent on the Sunday before Christmas, ODOT Press Secretary Matt Bruning said.

That year, on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day ODOT recorded a 21 percent jump, he said.

Drivers should “expect congestion and take your time,” Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Sheldon Goodrum said.

“Anytime – especially around the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s – people are just in a hurry trying to get to family or loved ones,” he said. “And a lot of times that’s when we see distracted driving.”

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The highway patrol will have more troopers on the road “increasing our presence in some areas, especially on those days when we’re looking for speeders or impaired drivers,” Goodrum said.

Highway patrol OVI arrests between Dec. 24 and Jan. 1 have fluctuated in recent years, reaching 698 in 2016-17 before dropping to 518 two years ago and then jumping to 592, records show.

OVI-related deaths have increased each of those years, going from 10 in 2016-17 to 13 last year, data indicates.

From Dec. 21-25 last year, the highway patrol recorded 10 fatal crashes and 11 deaths, Goodrum said. Of those, five crashes and six deaths were OVI-related, he said.

“If you’ve been consuming any alcohol at all, don’t get behind the wheel,” Goodrum said.

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With more drivers on the road, ODOT will work to reduce the size of as many work zones as possible, Bruning said.

Travelers can find information about work zones at OHGO.com. A direct link to construction info is https://ohgo.com/all-ohio?lt=39.949999999999996&ln=-83.05&z=7&ls=construction

Motorists are also advised to be prepared for vehicle breakdowns, as AAA anticipates 853,000 calls for roadside assistance.

Packing an emergency kit, blankets, extra gloves, coats, snacks, beverages and a cell phone charger are all recommended, Goodrum said.

And drivers facing delays shouldn’t let that sway their judgment, Antrican said,

“Make safety the priority,” she said. “It’s OK to make plans to arrive at a certain time, but flexibility is a must to arrive safely. Drivers who are faced with long delays should resist the urge to ‘make up time.’ Be committed and willing to make adjustments.”

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