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More than 1 million expected to travel on 4th

The sudden and dramatic drop in gas prices, improved employment and increased consumer optimism signals increased July 4th travel in North Carolina, according to AAA Carolinas.
More than 1,010,000 North Carolinians are expected to travel 50 miles or more during the long holiday weekend, a three percent increase over last year.
Traffic crash statistics show July 4th to typically be the single most dangerous 24-hour holiday of the year nationally. An average 144 traffic deaths occurred on July 4th each year from 2005 to 2009, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The travel forecast comes on the heels of a 39 cents per gallon drop in the price of gas during the last six weeks.
The current average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in the state is $3.48, down from its peak of $3.87 on May 12, 2010.
The Obama Administration’s unexpected release of 30 million gallons from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and the international release of an additional 30 million gallons, will continue to put downward pressure on gas prices throughout the weekend and beyond.
AAA Carolinas’ survey found:
• More than 940,000 travelers are expected to use personal automobiles for transportation to their destination, an increase of 5 percent over last year.
• More than 47,000 North Carolinians are expected to fly during the July 4th weekend, a 19 percent increase over last year but representing less than 5 percent of total travelers. Airfares have increased 11 percent across the country since last year.
• Unemployment in the state has dropped to 9.7 percent, down more than one full percentage point since last May.
• Hotel bookings are up 12 percent in the Carolinas, despite prices being up 13 percent.
• AAA TripTik customized route mapping services are up five percent from May last year.
• AAA Carolina’s Emergency Road Service reported a 3 percent increase in calls for May 2011.
AAA reminds travelers to have their vehicle serviced before taking long trips to avoid being stranded.
There were 19 traffic fatalities on North Carolina roads during last year’s July 4th weekend, down from 20 for the same time period in 2009.
The state’s “Booze It & Lose It: Operation Firecracker” campaign was out in full force in 2010 and charged more than 1,200 North Carolina motorists with driving while impaired through more than 4,600 stepped-up patrols and checkpoints.
The most expensive gas in the state is in Charlotte at $3.55 for a gallon of regular unleaded while Boone benefits from the cheapest gas prices averaging $3.43 in the area.
North Carolina’s variable gas tax is scheduled to increase 2.5 cents on July 1, bringing the total tax to 35 cents per gallon. This will further widen the gap between prices in North and South Carolina, where the state tax is 16.8 cents a gallon.
The most popular destinations for North Carolina travelers are Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Asheville, Atlanta and Orlando, according to AAA Carolinas.
The N.C. Department of Transportation reports most construction projects along interstate, N.C. and U.S. routes will be suspended beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday, July 1, until 9 a.m., Tuesday, July 5, 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;
• N.C. 131 near Dublin (Bladen County) is closed near N.C. 41 due to work at the intersection. Motorists traveling on N.C. 131 will need to follow the detour signs on N.C. 41 and N.C. 410 to guide them around the closure.
Motorists taking a trip can budget estimated gas costs for their personal vehicles on www.fuelcostcalculator.com. By entering origin, destination, make and model of their vehicle, motorists receive the estimated gasoline cost for their trip.
Motorists seeking the cheapest local gas prices can go to www.aaa.com/fuelfinder. Prices are listed for a 3-, 5- or 10-mile radius of the zip code entered.
AAA Carolinas, an affiliate of the American Automobile Association, is a not-for-profit organization that serves more than 1.8 million members with travel, automobile and insurance services while being an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers and motorists.

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