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Published: Friday, 5/25/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Travelers to face highway headaches

This holiday, construction, high gas prices, heat are major factors

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Holiday travelers can bank on three major things as they hit the roadways this Memorial Day weekend.

There will be plenty of construction, some pain at the pump, and higher than normal heat.

Through the middle of this week, the average daily mean temperature at Toledo Express Airport was 62.4 degrees, which is four degrees warmer than normal.

And after the warmest March in Toledo's recorded history and a relatively normal April, May is virtually certain to end significantly warmer than average.

Forecasts for the weekend called for mid-80s highs today, followed by a warm-up to the upper 80s or low 90s for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

The higher end of that range would get close to record high temperatures for those dates. The National Weather Service office predicted slight chances of thunderstorms each day, with the greatest likelihood on Saturday and late Monday.

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Work zones will be curtailed in Ohio and Michigan during the Memorial Day weekend, but that won't mean holiday travelers can expect to get where they're going without seeing any orange barrels.

Scattered construction-related congestion will be among factors for motorists' consideration as they hit the highways, with AAA predicting -- as usual -- that an overwhelming majority of holiday travelers will go in private vehicles.

Gasoline prices remain fairly high, though not as expensive as some analysts had predicted two to three months ago during the most recent Middle Eastern crisis in which Iran's president threatened to blockade the entrance to the Persian Gulf.

Based on a travel survey, the former American Automobile Association has predicted a 1.2 percent increase in the number of Americans traveling more than 50 miles from home this weekend.

But with "high gas prices squeezing consumers' spending power this spring," Memorial Day vacationers are expected to travel shorter distances than they did a year ago: an average of 642 miles instead of 792, the auto club said.

Nationwide, gasoline prices have fallen slowly for more than a month after rising sharply during February and April, and as of Monday were about 25 cents lower per gallon than they were a year ago, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report. But in metro Toledo, prices have not fallen as fast since their early-spring peak at just shy of $4 per gallon for self-service regular, leaving the region's prices slightly higher than the national average as of early this week.

The Web site gasbuddy.com painted a similar picture, with a Toledo-area average of $3.737 per gallon on Thursday exceeding its national average by just more than a nickel and topping Toledo's year-ago price by about nine cents and the month-ago price by a dime.

Click here to find the lowest gas prices in Toledo.

Mike Evans, executive vice president for business development at Atlas Oil, a Detroit-based gasoline wholesaler and retailer with more than a dozen filling stations in metro Toledo, said that while crude oil prices have come down from the early-spring peaks that drove the pump-price run-up, retail gasoline supplies in Detroit and Toledo have been tight because of refinery maintenance and, in Michigan, the conversion of refiners' production to summer gasoline blends.

"I don't expect any big uptick [in prices] right now," Mr. Evans said. "The question is how long it takes to get that tightness out of the market."

The Gasbuddy site showed, meanwhile, that motorists can save money by planning their gasoline purchases at lower-priced stations. The site's volunteer spotters reported many local filling stations charging $3.799 per gallon on Thursday, but some street-corner competition had pushed prices as low as the mid-$3.40s in some isolated spots.

Both the Ohio Department of Transportation and its Michigan counterpart said work would be suspended wherever possible throughout their states, but some construction zones -- notably those with major bridge work or total pavement reconstruction -- will stay in place.

In the Toledo area, the biggest headache is likely to be the I-475/U.S. 23 bridge rehabilitation at the Maumee River, where traffic is reduced to one lane each way and ramps from U.S. 24 to the freeway's southbound lanes are closed.

Motorists also should be alert driving through the two-mile work zone on I-475 in West Toledo, although congestion is less likely to be a problem there than ramp closings and speeders.

Traffic is reduced to two lanes each way, with a 50-mph speed limit, on the Ohio Turnpike for about two miles just west of I-280 for resurfacing, and for 14 miles east of the Fremont interchange for pavement reconstruction.

In Michigan, the main obstacle to watch out for is a bridge project on U.S. 223 in Palmyra that reduces traffic to one alternating lane governed by traffic signals.

On the flip side, all lane closings associated with I-75 resurfacing between the Maumee River and I-475 in Perrysburg have been removed for the weekend, and Theresa Pollick, the agency spokesman in Bowling Green, said all work north of the bridge over Glenwood Road -- between the Wales Road and Buck Road interchanges -- is finished.

The Michigan Department of Transportation similarly has suspended lane closings on its U.S. 23 resurfacing project near Ann Arbor.

Some of the Ohio Turnpike work will end late next month, and Ms. Pollick said the I-475/U.S. 23 bridge work is on target to be finished before the Independence Day weekend, thanks to a mild winter that allowed construction to begin earlier in March than originally planned.

"The weather has been kind to us. Not so good for farmers, but good for ODOT," the spokesman said.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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