Independence Day weekend travelers will have more company than ever on the highways and face record-high gasoline prices but are less likely to waste time and fuel in construction-related traffic backups - at least in the Toledo area.
"This will not only be the most heavily traveled Fourth of July ever, but this long weekend will actually put more American vacationers on the road than even Thanksgiving," said Laurie Ghesquire, a spokesman for AAA Northwest Ohio. "Higher prices for gasoline and increased competition for hotel rooms this holiday will do little to reduce Americans' desire to travel. Look for busy beaches, packed parks, and crowded campgrounds."
Based on a holiday travel survey, the auto club has predicted that 33.9 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home by motor vehicle during the holiday, a 2.6 percent increase over last year's 33.1 million. Another 6.4 million will travel by other modes, primarily by air.
As of yesterday, self-service, unleaded regular gasoline in the Toledo area ranged in price between about $2.06 and $2.30 per gallon, with prices slightly higher in southeast Michigan. While slightly lower than a low-$2.30s price peak the region experienced in early spring, the current prices are still higher than they have ever been for this time of year.
Nationwide, AAA said, the average $2.16 per gallon is three cents higher than a month ago, and 21 cents higher than this time last year. The auto club noted that car-rental rates are up 13 percent, and hotels are likely to sell out in popular destinations.
The detour of southbound I-280 in East Toledo took an early holiday. When a line of heavy thunderstorms yesterday brought work to a halt on the East Toledo approach for the Veterans' Glass City Skyway, contractor Fru-Con Construction Corp. called it quits for the weekend and reopened the southbound lanes, which had been closed since June 6.
I-280's southbound lanes will close again at Front Street at 7 a.m. Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Transportation said. Local traffic will continue to have access north and south of the Front interchange. Northbound I-280 now is scheduled to close at Front on July 8.
All lanes will be open for the weekend on the State Rt. 2 Edison Bridge over Sandusky Bay, ODOT said.
The Michigan Department of Transportation said it, too, is minimizing lane closings during the busy weekend. But its holiday travel advisory states that U.S. 23 is reduced to one lane each way between Holly and Flint, so motorists headed to northern Michigan should definitely consider using alternate routes like U.S. 127 north of Lansing.
And I-94 is reduced to one lane each way near Albion, Mich., creating another likely chokepoint.
For those traveling by air, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a reminder that fireworks are prohibited aboard all commercial airliners and that fines for violations can be steep.
"Friction can cause these items to ignite during flight, leading to tragic results for everyone on board," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in a statement.
The minimum civil fine for a fireworks violation is $275, and criminal penalties can range up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for individuals, the agency said.
- David Patch