- Steve Bennish Staff Writer
A record number of travelers for the Fourth of July weekend — nearly 43 million — will be hitting the nation’s highways and airports, according to AAA, spurred on by some of the lowest gas prices in more than a decade.
More than 1.5 million Ohioans plan to drive to destinations more than 50 miles from their homes, an increase of 2.4 percent from last year.
“People are traveling with an enthusiasm we haven’t seen in years,” AAA of the Miami Valley spokeswoman Cindy Antrican said.
The lowest gas prices since 2005 have saved U.S. drivers about $20 billion so far this year, according to AAA. And if you’re traveling south this weekend, you might want to wait before you top off your tank.
Airports also will be very busy. More than 116,000 Ohioans will be flying to their Fourth of July destinations — the highest air travel for the holiday weekend since before the 9/11 attacks, and up 2.75 percent from last year. Nationally, about 8 percent of travelers this weekend will be flying.
Terry Slaybaugh, Director of Aviation for the city of Dayton, said the apparent terrorist attack at the Istanbul Ataturk airport in Turkey hasn’t prompted specific warnings from federal authorities, but has raised security awareness.
“It was at an airport, and we are an airport, but we have an extensive security program and it makes us more aware of what we are doing at the airport,” he said.
The top destinations for Miami Valley travelers feature much cheaper gas than what you will find here. The heaviest travel will be on routes going south, according to requests received by area AAA travel agents.
The most popular destinations are: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; Ft. Walton Beach, Destin, Clearwater, Fort Myers and Sarasota, Fla.; and Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Gasoline prices in some of those places are quite a bit cheaper. For example, the average price per gallon Wednesday in Myrtle Beach was $1.96 compared with $2.33 in southwest Ohio.
Brad Dean, President and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, knows he can count on Ohio travelers.
“We anxiously await the arrival of Ohioans who have cabin fever in the spring. That rolls into bigger numbers in the summer and the fall,” Dean said. “We found Ohio visitors love Myrtle Beach in part because of the 60 miles of beaches and the many golf courses. Ohioans really value family-friendly locations like Myrtle Beach.”
Popular destinations to the north include Chicago and Michigan, said Brenda Lawson, office manager at AAA’s Centerville branch.
She also mentioned Kentucky’s “Bourbon Trail” is one offbeat holiday destination that’s increased in popularity. It’s a road trip though distilling country that includes visits to production facilities where Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Wild Turkey are produced, among others.
Law enforcement will be out in full force this weekend. Middletown police will be stepping up aggressive driving enforcement, targeting speeding, seat belt violations, and drug and alcohol offenses throughout the city.
Lt. Clint Arnold at the Ohio State Patrol Hamilton Post said there will be a full staff on the roads this weekend.
Arnold is encouraging motorists to “drive safe, drive the speed limit, wear seat belts, don’t drive impaired, give yourself extra time, and expect delays.”
Last year in Butler County, there were no fatal crashes over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
“We’re encouraging (troopers) to work diligently, be visible and vigorously enforce traffic laws over the weekend,” Arnold said.
Lt. Brian Aller of the Ohio State Patrol Springfield Post said drivers on highways and surface streets should expect to see plenty of troopers, who are being invited to take overtime and overstay their shifts to be on the lookout for problems.
“We want to be as visible as possible,” he said.
Motorists nationwide have enjoyed the lowest June gasoline prices in more than 10 years. GasBuddy.com predicts the national average will be $2.27 per gallon this weekend. Just two years ago, the national average hit $3.66 per gallon for the holiday.
The July decline is not unusual. Over the past 10 years, the average price of gas through the Fourth of July holiday has declined more often than not.
“The U.S. average price of gas was lower on July 5 than it was the previous week seven out of 10 occasions dating back to 2006,” said Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy. “This defies the general consensus on Main Street that prices rise ahead of a major travel holiday.”