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July 2, 2014

More expected to hit the road for 4th

— The biggest birthday party of the year kicks off Thursday and runs through late Sunday amid predictions that more of us will be taking to the highway than in the past couple of years.

The American Automobile Association is predicting that more than 31 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home despite it costing more to fill up the tank.

Along with the three-day weekend, AAA credits steady improvements in the economy along with increased consumer spending and greater consumer confidence for the optimistic travel forecast.

Travel figures will be up by nearly 2 percent from 2013, AAA predicted.

With high temperatures and plenty of humidity along the Eastern Seaboard, many of those hitting the highway will be headed to beaches or state parks.  

Meteorologist Brian Edwards with AccuWeather in State College said the weather will cooperate.

“It looks really nice for the weekend,” he said. “It probably couldn’t turn out much better for the Fourth and on Saturday and Sunday.

Thundershowers passing through the region Thursday will bring lower temperatures and humidity, he said.

The showers will be out of the state by Friday and temperatures will be in the lower 70s with clear and sunny skies, Edwards said.

Temperatures will climb slightly Saturday and will approach 80 by Sunday, Edwards said.

Gasoline prices are on average about 20 cents higher than on Independence Day 2013, when a gallon in the Johnstown area cost about $3.68.

On Wednesday, a gallon of regular was $3.83 at Sheetz in downtown Johnstown and $3.85 in Richland.

Just as the AAA is looking for greater volume on the highways, heavy Independence Day traffic is expected on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. More than 2.7 million vehicles are expected to travel the toll road over the long weekend, according to turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo.

The figure is up from the

2.5 million vehicles that used the turnpike at the same time last year.

“With that volume of traffic expected, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is asking motorists to stay alert and be aware of distracted drivers,” DeFebo said.

All available lanes will be open to traffic through Monday, DeFebo said.

Motorists are reminded not to speed and to leave the texting until they stop, said state police Capt. Gregory Bacher of the turnpike troop.

The turnpike is sponsoring a “safety break” to promote safe driving at the South Midway Service Plaza on the eastbound side just east of the Bedford interchange.

Geared at promoting safe driving, the break will run from

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will provide information about the turnpike with staff on hand to answer questions, DeFebo said.

PennDOT announced an impaired driving enforcement effort through the cooperation of state police and the state.

In 2013, the state had

256 alcohol-related crashes resulting in 11 fatalities from June 30 to July 9.

Law enforcement will be on the highways hoping lower those numbers this year,

PennDOT said.

On a regional level, Anthony Scalia, District 9’s safety press officer, said keeping safety in mind will go a long way in all enjoying the weekend.

“We are asking motorists to obey the speed limit and refrain from other aggressive driving behaviors such as tailgating, disobeying traffic signals and running stop signs,” he said.

For those who choose to drink alcohol, he said, make sure there is a designated driver.

With a large number of highway and bridge projects underway, Scalia urged motorists to slow down through constructions zones.

Kathy Mellott covers transportation for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at @kathymellotttd.

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