Last Updated on May 25, 2013 4:33 pm
An estimated 897,300 North Carolina motorists – a 1.5% increase over last year – are expected to hit the road as the summer travel season kicks off this Memorial Day weekend.
A significant drop in gas prices, currently at $3.43 in North Carolina – down 37 cents since peaking on Feb. 22 – is helping to fuel the increase in holiday travel. North Carolina’s average price is 12 cents per gallon less than on May 22, 2012.
“Lower gas prices and a slowly improving economy means more people will travel this holiday weekend to spend time with family and friends,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “This weekend’s favorable weather forecast will also encourage many last-minute travelers to get away for Memorial Day.”
A total of 1,017,200 North Carolinians are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home, with a drop in those flying to 59,900, down 5% from 63,100 last year. Other travel (bus, rail, maritime) is expected to remain flat at 60,000.
Wilmington has the state’s highest gas prices at $3.45 on average. North Carolina’s cheapest gas is in Boone and High Point, which are both at $3.37. The state average of $3.43 is the ninth lowest in the country.
North Carolina motorists will enjoy lower gas prices in South Carolina – currently the lowest in the country at $3.24 – Tennessee ($3.28) and Virginia ($3.40), but slightly higher prices in Georgia ($3.46). Anyone heading to the Midwest will experience sticker shock, as gas prices in Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota and Nebraska have surged to more than $4 a gallon, due to refinery outages and extended maintenance.
Trips are expected to be longer, up from 570 miles last year to 737 miles this year. Average national hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are up 4% to $166 per night, compared to $160 last year, while AAA Two Diamond hotels remain unchanged at $120 per night. Car rental rates will average $43 per day, up 19% from last year and the highest in the past four years.
The most congested times for travel are expected to be Friday afternoon and evening – with traffic increasing earlier in the day than usual – as well as Monday evening, as travelers head back home.
Memorial Day weekend launches the “100 deadliest days” for teen drivers, with seven of the 10 most deadly days of the year occurring between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
One of the biggest contributing factors in fatal accidents involving teen drivers is the number of other teen passengers in the car. Fatal crash rates for 16- to 19-year-olds increase five times when two or more teen passengers are present, compared to driving alone. AAA recommends parents discuss this and other driver distraction issues, like texting or using a cell phone while driving, with their teens.
Most construction projects along interstate, N.C. and U.S. routes will be suspended from 4 p.m. Friday, May 24, until 9 a.m., Tuesday, May 28, with three exceptions:
U.S. 1 just north of Southern Pines (Moore County) is reduced to one lane in each direction for construction of a new bridge
U.S. 158 (Elizabeth Street) in Elizabeth City is reduced to one lane in each direction over the Pasquotank River for resurfacing and construction of a new bridge
U.S. 17 Business in Jacksonville (Onslow County) is reduced to two-lane, two-way traffic on the Buddy Phillips Bridge over the New River for construction of a new bridge.
For the latest on construction delays, go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation website, www.NCDOT.org. Click on Travel & Maps and then on the Traveler Information Management System for up-to-date traffic information related to closed travel lanes, accidents or expected congestion due to sporting events, such as Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race this weekend.
The five-day Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 23, through Monday, May 27. Survey data is taken from AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, AAA/HIS Global Insight holiday travel forecast and AAA Carolinas data.
To estimate fuel costs, travelers can go to www.fuelcostcalculator.com to input starting city, destination, and the make and model of their car.
The free AAA Mobile app for iPhone and Android devices uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find updated gas prices, view nearby member discounts and access AAA Roadside Assistance.