Clear skies, minimal road construction, and — at least for now — the most expensive gasoline ever for late November are in the cards as Toledo-area motorists hit the highways this weekend for the Thanksgiving holiday.
AAA, the former American Automobile Association, has predicted a slightly higher number of Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving than they did a year ago, but says trips will be shorter to keep expenses down.
“Despite mild improvements in unemployment, the housing market, and greater consumer optimism, the economy is still struggling to keep its head above water,” the auto club said in a preface to its forecast for an 0.7 percent increase in long-distance holiday travel.
Among respondents to the AAA travel survey who expect to venture out this week, the average travel distance will be 588 miles, down from 706 miles last year. And the slightly increased forecast for out-of-town travel, 43.6 million Americans, still falls 14 percent short of the prerecession level in 2007 and 26 percent below the record of 2005, the auto club said.
Although no all-time records have been set, gasoline prices have been at historic highs based on time of year for most of 2012, including the last few months. In northwest Ohio, prices at some stations dipped just below the $3-a-gallon mark in late October but have since rebounded into the $3.30 to $3.50 range at most Toledo-area stations.
The Toledo average price for self-service regular reported by the Web site gasbuddy.com late Saturday, $3.437 a gallon, matched the national average, but local prices were well below the nation’s when they were near $3 late last month.
On the same day last year, Toledo’s prices were about 17 cents a gallon cheaper, and the national average was 3.7 cents a gallon lower.
AAA said it expected further price declines through the rest of November, although on Friday world oil and gasoline prices rose because of the potential for deepening conflict in the volatile Middle East, centered on rising hostilities between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
“Holiday travel is mostly done by car, and a dramatic drop in gas prices could inspire some reluctant travelers to get behind the wheel,” the auto club said.
AAA noted that its survey was conducted before superstorm Sandy raked the mid-Atlantic states, which it expects to have a significant impact on holiday travel in that region.
No threatening weather was in the long-range forecast for Toledo or anywhere nearby. Except for possible brief showers Tuesday, the National Weather Service predicted dry weather and above-normal temperatures through at least Friday in northwest Ohio.
Normal temperatures for this part of November include lows near freezing and highs in the upper 40s.
It also is normal in the Great Lakes region for most road construction to wrap up for the year by Thanksgiving. The only major projects continuing through the holiday in Toledo are the I-475 reconstruction in West Toledo and the Alexis Road bridges project east of Detroit Avenue.
During the five-day peak Thanksgiving travel period last year, 17 people died in traffic crashes on Ohio highways, the Ohio State Highway Patrol reported. Six of those travelers were not wearing seat belts.
“The Thanksgiving holiday should be a joyous time for all families in Ohio, but far too often the celebration turns to tragedy on our state’s highways,” said Col. John Born, the state patrol’s superintendent. “Simple things, like planning ahead to designate a driver if you choose to consume alcohol and insisting that everyone in the vehicle is buckled up before you leave, can go a long way toward ensuring these tragedies do not occur.”
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