Historic gas prices won’t stop Memorial Day travel before the hot summer season

Historically high prices at the fuel pump do not deter travelers or quell expectations that summer travel will be “on fire” in the United States this year.

AAA announced that more than 39 million people will travel 50 miles or more away from their homes this coming Memorial Day weekend, reaching 2017 levels.

“Memorial Day is always a good indicator of what’s to come in summer travel,” Paula Tweedall, vice president of AAA Travel, said in a press release. “Based on our predictions, not only is summer travel heating up, it will be blazing. People are late for vacation and looking to offset some much-needed research and development in the coming months.”

Most of those travelers – about 34.9 million people – will be on the road this weekend, even amid rising gas prices.

Thursday’s highest gas prices were just over $6 a gallon for regular gas in California, nearly $2 more than the lowest gallon price in Oklahoma, according to AAA.

The average price for Pennsylvania was $4,766 a gallon Thursday, with stops around Lehigh Valley between $4.53 at US Gas in Katasukua to $4.89 at Citgo on Broad Street in Bethlehem, according to GasBuddy.com.

The pain at the pump is expected to continue, as the national average for a gallon of gas reaches California levels for everyone.

“U.S. retail price may rise another 37% by August to $6.20/gallon on the national average,” Natasha Kaneva, head of commodity research at JPMorgan, said in a note Tuesday.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission expects traffic to be more than pre-pandemic levels. The commission expects more than 2.2 million drivers over the weekend, an increase of 3% over pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

Friday should be the busiest day of travel on the highway, with 770,000 vehicles on its roads.

Officials are concerned about a combination of the weekend, reckless driving and more cars on the roads.

Dangerous driving with fatal consequences has been a hallmark during the pandemic. Traffic deaths in the United States reached a 16-year high in 2021, and the 10.5% increase over 2020 deaths was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting data in 1975.

Fatal crashes in Pennsylvania jumped nearly 9% in 2021, with 1,230 people equaling the most traffic deaths in the state since 2012.

“While our traffic volumes are beginning to reflect, or even exceed, levels prior to the pandemic, poor driving habits have worsened during the pandemic – when drivers saw little traffic and wide-open roads – becoming much more dangerous,” Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said.

“With the roads congested, these deadly driving behaviors are having worrisome effects on lives and families. We must work to change this trend and remind and re-educate drivers that life is in their hands when they get behind the wheel.” A momentary distraction can have dire consequences. Put your phone down and watch your speed and watch what’s happening on the road.”

Turnpike plans to increase the number of patrols and safety teams over the weekend, and Pennsylvania State Police, including Troop M that covers the Lehigh Valley, plan to enforce the holiday from Friday morning into Monday night.

“With Memorial Day weekend approaching, and a surge in traffic during the holidays is expected, we are repeating the reminder to motorists of the importance of safe driving habits,” the state police officer said. Matthew Johnston said in a press release. “Adherence to the stated speed limits, allowing sufficient distance between other vehicles and general respect for other motorists, will ensure that everyone reaches their destination safely.”

Travelers aren’t just behind the wheel. Analysts and experts are preparing for an increase in air travel over the coming months.

AAA expects 3 million more people to travel over Memorial Day weekend than it did three years ago, when 3.22 million people took a trip during the same time period.

The Transportation Security Administration is preparing for a surge in passenger numbers, with summer passenger screening levels likely to reach record numbers and reach 3 million passengers in a single day. This applies to domestic airports, including Lehigh Valley International Airport, which expects a busy weekend and summer.

One new tool that domestic travelers can use is to check real-time and predicted wait times at the airport’s TSA checkpoint, via the new passenger prediction program. Times can be checked on the airport’s website here.

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Sarah Casey can be reached at [email protected].

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