Thanksgiving holiday travel volume in North Carolina is expected to increase 1% this year, due in part to the dramatic drop in gas prices, according to AAA Carolinas.
A total of 1,260,500 North Carolinians are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home. About 1,134,000 or 90% of those will drive, an increase of about 11,000 travelers over last year.
Thanksgiving is one of the most dangerous annual holidays due to its four-day length and the congestion caused by the high number of highway vacationers.
The Thanksgiving holiday period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 21, to Sunday, Nov. 25. The highest number of travelers (45%) will depart on Wednesday and most will return on Sunday (36%).
Gas prices in North Carolina have dropped significantly in the past two months. The statewide average is $3.31 today, down 54 cents since peaking in mid-September at $3.85. North Carolinians are paying four cents less at the pump compared to last Thanksgiving, when they paid $3.35.
“Thanksgiving is the most traditional family holiday with the ‘turkey day’ always coming on a Thursday, creating a guaranteed four-day holiday for many,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “The lower price at the pump will encourage more people to drive this Thanksgiving.”
The highest average price in North Carolina is in Boone at $3.45 per gallon of unleaded self-service; the least expensive average price is in High Point at $3.23.
Although Hurricane Sandy hasn’t affected gas prices in North Carolina, motorists traveling to the Northeast can expect to pay more, particularly in New York, which at $3.93 currently has the most expensive gas in the continental United States.
However, North Carolina motorists can expect to see lower gas prices in the bordering states of South Carolina ($3.13), Virginia ($3.24), Tennessee ($3.16) and Georgia ($3.26).
In spite of decreasing airfares, fewer travelers will be taking to the skies this year, about 98,000 or 8% of all travelers. An estimated 28,000 (2%) will use other modes of transportation, such as train, boat or bus.
More North Carolinians will travel closer to home, averaging about 588 miles round-trip, and the roughly 40% of travelers not staying with relatives or friends will find hotel rates relatively flat to last year. AAA Three Diamond hotels are down 1% from a year ago, while AAA Two Diamond hotels are up 1% from last year. Car rentals have increased 27% in the past year, from an average $37 per day in 2011 to $47 per day this year.
There are expected to be no significant construction delays along North Carolina interstates, as most projects will be suspended from 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, until 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 26, with five exceptions:
• N.C. 12 from the Bonner Bridge to Rodanthe (Dare County) – intermittent closures due to weather.
• U.S. 17 Business in Jacksonville (Onslow County) – reduced to two-lane, two-way traffic on the Buddy Phillips Bridge.
• U.S. 74/76 in Wrightsville Beach (New Hanover County) on the Wrightsville Draw Bridge is reduced to one lane in each direction.
• U.S. 421 in Carolina Beach (New Hanover County – reduced to one lane in each direction at Snow Cut’s Bridge
• I-73 in Greensboro (Guilford County) – reduced to three lanes in each direction from two miles south of Wendover Ave. (Exit 101) to one mile north of I-85 (Exit 97).
South Carolina’s Department of Transportation requires contractors to keep all lanes open during heavy travel holidays.
To estimate fuel costs, travelers can go to www.fuelcostcalculator.com to input starting city, destination, and the make and model of their car.