Thanksgiving traffic should be up this year
Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 9:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 9:58 p.m.
If you plan on hitting the road Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday, take heart: You won't be traveling alone.
You can expect about 43.6 million fellow Americans to join you on the nation's crowded highways.
Nationwide holiday travel will increase, but not by much, from last year, according to AAA. The modest gain, up from 43.3 million travelers last year, represents people taking a trip of 50 miles or more from Wednesday to Sunday.
AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said travel during what is traditionally the busiest time of year has increased over the past four years, but this year might be a plateau in the uptick.
"We've been seeing a healthy increase over the last few years — a lot of demand has been met," he said. "But we haven't seen as much economic growth recently, and people who couldn't afford to travel last year may be experiencing the same thing this year."
In Florida, AAA projects 2,210,186 travelers this holiday season, a 0.6 percent increase from last year. Of those, the majority are expected to travel by car — at 2,010,898 travelers. Airplane travel in Florida is expected to be slightly lower this year, at 154,246 travelers, a 1.8 percent decrease. The remaining 45,042 travelers are expected to travel by other means, including by bus or train — a 13.7 percent increase from last year.
Gas prices also are expected to stay low for the duration of the holiday, at an average of $3.33 a gallon in Florida. However, Jenkins said there could be a spike forthcoming.
"The conflict in the Middle East is causing concern, and we could see a ripple effect," he said. "All the violence — that could cause a spike in concerns of supply disruptions, but we don't expect it to affect the Thanksgiving holiday."
At the Gainesville Regional Airport, spokeswoman Laura Aguiar said that Wednesday and Sunday are traditionally the busiest travel days of the year. She said that in November 2011, the airport saw about 31,627 passengers fly out of the airport.
"Our numbers overall for the year have been up," she said. "I expect we'll meet last year at least."
With so many travelers, Aguiar warned fliers to arrive at least an hour early for a flight, and she urged first-time travelers to review TSA regulations to help facilitate quick trips through security.
"Pack your patience," she said. "New travelers don't know the ins and outs of security, or how much time to give themselves. They assume because it's a small airport, things will go quicker."
For a full list of security regulations, she said, travelers can log onto www.TSA.gov.
For drivers, Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Gina Busscher said her agency tries to smooth holiday traffic by removing workers from the roads.
"Basically we get out of the way," she said. "Construction projects don't work Wednesday, and aren't back till Monday. Every year, we do this at Thanksgiving and right before Christmas to before New Year's."
Also, she said a good way to keep an eye on traffic is through Florida's statewide 511 service. The service, reached by dialing the numbers on a cellphone, gives information about delays and detours on the roadways. There's also an app that can be downloaded that will tell you when a road is congested.
Because of the high volume of drivers, the Florida Highway Patrol will be out in force looking for aggressive drivers. Spokeswoman Sgt. Tracy Hisler-Pace said FHP is suspending all office operations beginning today so that as many troopers as possible can be out on the roadways.
She said troopers will be looking for drivers who speed, weave in and out of traffic and aren't wearing a seat belt. FHP is one of many Florida law enforcement agencies running a "click it or ticket" campaign, including the Lake City Police Department and the Gainesville Police Department. A ticket for not wearing a seat belt in Alachua County costs $104, Pace said.
Pace also said drivers should prepare their vehicles for long-distance traveling and offered some general tips.
"Check your tires, windshield wipers and brakes and make sure everything is in working order," she said. "Make sure you have cash and credit cards for an emergency."
Another necessity, Pace said, is a paper map.
"GPS can lead you astray, so have a good, old-fashioned map. Your tech might not work in all areas — like mountains," she said. "Also, be mindful of your speed, and give plenty of distance. Sometimes in heavy traffic in an accident, everyone has to stop quickly. Give yourself some distance to keep chain reactions from happening, and give yourself time to stop."
Regardless of all the preparations, Pace said to expect long travel times.
"Absolutely expect delays and give yourself time to get where you're going," she said. "It's going to take time, but I can't stress enough the importance of safety. Make sure you wear seat belts and restrain children properly."
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