The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

November 24, 2013

Survey finds fewer planning Thanksgiving trips

— Although the average price of gasoline is 25 cents per gallon lower than last year this time, fewer of us will be loading up the car and heading out to give thanks with distant family and friends.

Those who do travel might want to avoid the South Somerset Service Plaza of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset County, which travel watchers say will be the third busiest in the Northeast.

Capturing fourth on the list, prepared by Foursquare, a social networking website, is just to the east, the Sideling Hill Service Plaza in Fulton County.

But regardless of travel route or rest stop favorite, the numbers of travelers heading out Wednesday, the nation’s busiest travel day of the year, will be fewer than last year by 1.5 percent.

The Survey by the American Automobile Association says that 90 percent of those traveling will go by car, and will reflect a decrease from last year of 1.6 percent for a total of 38.9 percent.

The survey looks at motorists traveling 50 or more miles from their home.

An even sharper decline is forecast for those traveling by air.

Word from the AAA is that 3.13 million travelers will fly and while the numbers are down by 3.7 percent over last year, the average air trip will be 13 miles longer, bumping it up to 601 miles.

Weather could play a role in traffic movement during the early part of Wednesday, said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Pydynowski.

A storm is expected to move up the Eastern Seaboard starting late Tuesday.

“As far as Wednesday goes, there’s probably a chance for some snow or rain, but we might be far enough west to miss out,” he said.

Temperatures will be in the 20s with highs into the low 30s and there could be travel delays.

“Thanksgiving itself looks OK, but it will be cold,” he said.

The cold temperatures will hang around through the weekend, but the forecast calls for it to be dry.

Meanwhile, the nationwide forecast of fewer drivers on the highway this Thanksgiving is not reflective of what officials of the Pennsylvania Turnpike are expecting.

Over the five-day extended weekend, the toll road will see 2.6 million drivers, according to an estimate by spokesman Carl DeFebo.

That figure parallels the number of turnpike travelers for Thanksgiving weekend last year.

To ease congestion and keep the highway safe, the turnpike has modified all construction and maintenance work to allow full use of the roadway.

All lanes will be available beginning at

3 p.m. today and remain open through 6 a.m. Dec. 2, DeFebo said.

The turnpike’s state police troop will be on patrol watching for speeding and aggressive driving and those texting while behind the wheel, said Capt. Gregory Bacher, commanding officer of Troop T.

“The point is to be alert and pay attention while driving, especially in such heavy traffic over this holiday season,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’ve had more road rage incidents on the turnpike lately and with the amount of drivers on the road during Thanksgiving, not everyone is courteous and aware of their surroundings.”

PennDOT is handing out the same advice along with word that it, along with state police and local police departments, are teaming up for “Operation Safe Holiday.”

It is enforcement focusing on seatbelt use and impaired-driving.

Slowing down and paying attention can be crucial to staying alive, said Tara Callahan-Henry, press officer for PennDOT District 9.

“The Thanksgiving holiday period experienced the highest number of crashes and fatalities of any major holiday season last year,” she said.

During the long holiday weekend of 2012 there were 4,328 crashes and 53 fatalities statewide, she said.

Safety tips

Tips from PennDOT for getting there safely:

• Obey posted speed limits and all traffic laws.

• Adapt your driving to weather conditions.

• Keep an eye out for aggressive drivers in congested areas.

• Avoid the temptation to drive aggressively.

• Avoid distractions and keep your eyes on the highway.

• Never drink and drive.

• Always wear your seatbelt.

Kathy Mellott covers transportation issues for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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