Holiday travel should be up thanks to cheaper gas
Thanks to cheaper gasoline and enough economic improvement to set free long-repressed desires to hit the road, an estimated one of every seven Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving week up 4 percent from last year.
"This is the first significant increase in any holiday travel this year," said Bill Sutherland, vice president of AAA Travel Services, which released its annual holiday travel forecast.
Meanwhile, highway officials say Utahns should see relatively few choke points from highway construction this week, as roadwork has been reduced for winter. But some complications could come from rain that is expected on Thanksgiving Day and some snow on Friday.
Sutherland said 42.5 million Americans will be traveling at least 50 miles from home this week, and that shows a release of "pent-up [travel] demand from Americans who may have forgone holiday travel the last three years."
He added, "As consumers weigh the fear of economic uncertainty and the desire to create lasting family memories this holiday, more Americans are expected to choose family and friends over frugality."
In the Mountain West, AAA forecasts a 4.1 percent increase in travel this week over the same time last year.
"After three consecutive years of historically low holiday travel volumes, more [Mountain states] regional residents are expected to capitalize on the recent reduction in gasoline prices," AAA said.
The organization reported that the average cost of regular unleaded gasoline in Utah on Monday was $3.33 a gallon. That was down from $3.52 a gallon a month ago, but up from $2.83 a year ago.
AAA projects the average distance traveled by Americans during the holiday week will be 706 miles, and estimates median spending at $554, up 12 percent from last year.
It said fuel and transportation costs will consume the largest share of holiday travel spending (33 percent), followed by shopping (18 percent), food and beverages (18 percent), accommodations (16 percent) and entertainment and recreation (12 percent).
Two-diamond hotels are projected to cost 7 percent more this year at $103 a night. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $37, an 11 percent decrease from last year. Airfares are expected to be 20 percent higher than last year, with an average round-trip rate of $212 for the top 40 U.S. air routes.
The Utah Department of Transportation says relatively few road construction projects should delay holiday traffic, but it lists a few that may complicate driving.
UDOT plans to open a new "continuous flow intersection" at 6200 South and Bangerter Highway on Wednesday, and drivers may want to use caution as others adjust to new patterns there. Several similar intersections have been added along Bangerter in the past year, and this is the last one scheduled to open there.
Also, UDOT continues to rebuild Interstate 15 from Lehi to Spanish Fork. It will remain an active construction zone throughout the winter, and drivers can expect narrowed and shifting lanes throughout that section.
In northern Utah, near the Idaho state line, UDOT plans to restrict Interstate 84 to one lane for pavement work on some areas.
In southern Utah, State Road 14 west of Cedar City remains closed because of a massive landslide, so other routes should be used to such destinations as Brian Head ski resort and Dutch Creek Village.
UDOT recommends avoiding peak commute times to escape delays. It said Tuesday and Wednesday evenings are traditionally the heaviest travel times.
Also, it recommends making return trips on Sunday morning or Saturday to avoid delays as Sunday afternoon and evening have heavy holiday traffic.
No transit on Thanksgiving
The Utah Transit Authority will offer only limited ski buses on Thanksgiving with no service on other buses, TRAX or FrontRunner trains, said UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter.
On "Black Friday" after Thanksgiving, TRAX and FrontRunner will offer regular weekday service, but buses will operate on a reduced Sunday schedule. UTA also will be offering additional TRAX trains before and after the University of Utah football game Friday afternoon. Schedules are available on rideuta.com.