The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

November 20, 2012

Travel time: Millions hitting the road for Thanksgiving holiday

— For most people, Thanksgiving prompts thoughts of turkey, pumpkin pie and home.

And getting home often involves some travel.

This year the American Automobile Association said more people will travel during this long holiday weekend than did so last year.

Many will head out today for this busiest holiday travel period of the year, according to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

“More than 2.6 million drivers will be traveling the Pennsylvania Turnpike over the Thanksgiving holiday,” spokesman Carl DeFebo said Tuesday.

The five-day period, which starts today and runs through Sunday, will be what DeFebo described as the busiest travel holiday of the year on the nation’s first superhighway.

Nationally, an increase of less than 1 percent is expected on the highways and all other forms of transportation.

AAA estimates 43.6 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home between today and Sunday, up 0.07 percent from the 43.3 million who traveled during Thanksgiving in 2011.

About 90 percent of the 2012 travelers will be getting behind the wheel, with the rest traveling by air, bus or train.

The anticipated travel increase is down sharply from the 8 percent increase in 2011 and 6 percent in 2010, AAA officials said.

People are taking to the highways despite a still sluggish economy and gasoline prices up some over the $3.40 per gallon paid last Thanksgiving in western Pennsylvania.

The per-gallon price for regular at Sheetz on Scalp Avenue on Tuesday was $3.59. There is a potential for increases as a result of unrest in Middle East, national oil experts are saying.

The most congested travel times on the turnpike will be from 3 to 8 p.m. today and from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

DeFebo warns that motorists should be aware of the liklihood of slow-moving traffic and periodic stopped traffic on the roadway, especially today and Sunday.

State police and PennDOT officials are urging all motorists to slow down, buckle up and don’t drive alcohol impaired.

“Last year, Thanksgiving fell behind Independence Day, but not by far, for the greatest number of crashes,” PennDOT safety officer Pam Kane said. “Thanksgiving is still the most traveled holiday of the year.”

“Click It or Ticket,” a federally funded safety initiative, will put more state and municipal police on the highways through the long weekend.

While safety is the emphasis, Kane said, police will be on the lookout on for drunken drivers and aggressive driving.

Statewide, there were

4,235 crashes during the 2011 Thanksgiving weekend with 49 deaths, PennDOT’s central office in Harrisburg reported.

Motorists are being urged to be well-rested and alert before starting on any trip. They should take frequent breaks and rotate drivers.

State police are also teaming up with turnpike officials to watch for impaired and aggressive driving on the toll road.

Thanksgiving has historically set arrest records for drunken driving, with greater numbers of motorists arrested during the next few days than during the New Year’s holiday, Kane said.

PennDOT and turnpike officials have taken steps to halt construction and eliminate, as much as possible, road and bridge construction.

Paving has ended, but some bridges in the region will be closed and some lane restrictions will be in effect, said Tara Callahan-Henry, PennDOT District 9 spokeswoman.

Efforts were being made in recent weeks to get as many of those bridges open as possible.

Announcements went out this week as barricades came down and detours lifted for structures including the Boswell bridge on Route 601, which carries traffic over Quemahoning Creek.

All construction and maintenance on the turnpike has been modified to allow full use of the roadway, DeFebo said.

All lanes will be available from 3 p.m. today through 6 a.m. Monday. Some construction work that has no impact on travel lanes may continue behind barriers, and shoulder widths could be reduced.

As an added precaution, all oversize commercial vehicles – trucks exceeding 81⁄2 feet wide and 85 feet long – will be banned from the turnpike through Nov. 28.

Two turnpike service plazas, both east of Cambria and Somerset counties, are closed for construction. They are the South Midway Plaza for eastbound motorists near the Bedford exit and the Highspire Service Plaza near Harrisburg.

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