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AAA expects more holiday travel

CHARLOTTE — AAA Carolinas estimates 865,000 North Carolina motorists — a 3 percent increase over last year — are expected to begin traveling as early as Thursday as the summer travel season kicks off with the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
A combination of a 12 cent drop in gasoline prices since peaking on May 13 and an unemployment rate drop of 1.5 percentage points from April 2010, is helping create an atmosphere for a slight increase in North Carolina travel, according to AAA Carolinas.
“We’ve found that employment status affects vacation travel more than gas prices,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas.
“Despite gas prices just shy of a dollar higher than last year, AAA hotel bookings, rental car reservations and personalized trip routings are all up over last year.[0xb2]
Eighty-eight percent of those traveling 50 or more miles away from home will drive, with a small percentage of travelers stretching the holiday by leaving on Thursday, according to survey respondents.
While airfares have increased, the number choosing to fly has also increased by 3 percent to 67,000, mostly for long-haul travel.
Other travel (bus, rail, maritime) is expected to total 60,000.
North Carolina’s average price per gallon is $3.73, a drop of 10 cents in the past week. Gas prices still represent a 24 percent increase since the beginning of the year.
A slight decline in gasoline demand and resurgent worries about the economic state of several European nations contributed to a significant drop in oil prices. This oil price decrease is still working its way through the gasoline market pipeline and consumers can expect gasoline prices to continue dropping throughout the holiday weekend.
Asheville maintains the state’s highest prices at $3.801 on average. North Carolina’s cheapest gas is in High Point at $3.64; South Carolina currently has the nation’s lowest average price for a gallon of regular unleaded at $3.59.
Hotel bookings are up 4 percent over last Memorial Day and Carolinians have reserved roughly 10 percent more rental cars than this holiday last year, according to AAA Carolinas, operator of the largest leisure travel agency in the Carolinas.
“Travelers are watching their gasoline budgets and in many cases shifting discretionary vacation spending to cover gasoline and transportation costs,” said Parsons.
Most construction projects along interstate, N.C. and U.S. routes will be suspended beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 27, until 9 a.m., Tuesday, May 31, with two exceptions:
• U.S. 17 in Windsor (Bertie County) is reduced to one lane on the Cashie River Bridge due to construction. Traffic is controlled by signals; however, commercial trucks are restricted on this route and detour signs are in place. All motorists are encouraged to use the U.S. 17 Bypass around Windsor to avoid possible delays;
• The Buddy Phillips Bridge in Jacksonville (Onslow County) is reduced toone lane in each direction on U.S. 17 Business for bridge construction.

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