Labor Day travelers: Here's what to expect


Published: Friday, September 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 31, 2006 at 11:34 p.m.
An estimated 1.9 million Floridians will be taking to the roads or the skies for Labor Day travel this weekend - but here in Gainesville, local businesses are preparing for the thousands of Gator fans who will descend on the city for the Gators' kickoff game against Southern Mississippi.
"Sometimes holidays are days when people leave the county, so it's nice when you have a holiday and a football game," said Roland Loog, director of the Alachua County Visitor's and Convention Bureau.
Loog said the Visit Florida agency predicts Gator fans will bring about $6.5 million in revenue to the city, indicating Gainesville is back in full swing after the slow summer months.
"It's a great thing to see all these people coming into town and filling our restaurants and filling our hotels and spending money and then going home," Loog said.
Now, it's just a matter of hoping that the 30 percent chance of rain forecast for Saturday afternoon doesn't put a damper on all the orange and blue fun.
But for those Gainesvillians not sticking around to see the Gators duke it out with Southern Mississippi, be ready for a battle, of sorts, with both gas stations and law enforcement.
Gas prices are about 40 cents a gallon higher than they were last year at this time, according to AAA, but that doesn't seem to be deterring anyone from hopping in their car. The AAA predicts 1.6 million Floridians and 1 million Georgians will opt to travel via their vehicle at least 50 miles from home this weekend, with towns and rural areas being the most preferred destination.
However, though the price for a gallon of gas is considerably higher than last year, gas prices have actually been on a downward trend since July. Labor Day might bring slight increases, but nothing heart-attack provoking.
"Labor Day might indeed bump up the prices just a little bit, but if it does, it won't be very much and it won't last very long," said Randy Bly, director of community relations for AAA.
Bly said a number of factors - such as the cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel and the downgraded hurricane predictions - have helped lower gas prices. As of Thursday, Florida's average price for regular unleaded was $2.855. Gainesville was slightly higher at $2.871.
Beyond gas prices, motorists will also have to worry about law enforcement swarming the roads and highways to keep traffic moving smoothly during the busy weekend.
In Gainesville, the Gainesville Police Department will be conducting a driver's license checkpoint at 3700 SW 23rd Terrace tonight from 10 p.m. to midnight. Officers will also check head, tail and brake lights, and will check for up-to-date registration information.
On the state highways starting at midnight on Friday and continuing through midnight Monday, Florida Highway Patrol troopers will be out in full force as part of their campaign titled "Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest."
All sworn officers will devote their time to patrolling the roads for drunken drivers, or any other traffic infractions they might catch along the way.
During last year's Labor Day campaign, 44 people were killed in traffic crashes in Florida, according to FHP. Of those fatalities, 40 percent of the people killed were not using their seat belts and 49 percent of the crashes were alcohol-related.
Motorists whose destinations lie in northeast Florida or south Georgia will also have to contend with another annual event called "Hands Across the Border."
Coordinated by the Florida Department of Transportation and regional law enforcement, "Hands Across the Border" focuses on seat belt usage, child seat safety and impaired driving. Officers will also be conducting DUI checkpoints throughout the weekend.
Alice Wallace can be reached at 374-5036 or alice.wallace@gvillesun.com.

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