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Holiday travel: Gas cheaper; police watching roads, lakes

More Carolinas residents will hit the road this Memorial Day weekend than a year ago, and they’ll travel farther than in 2012, according to travel experts.

And on their holiday travels, they can expect:

• Lower gasoline prices.

• A suspension of most construction projects.

• Nice weather.

• A new parking format at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

• Stepped-up police patrols, with authorities especially cracking down on speeders and motorists not wearing seat belts.

“Lower gas prices and a slowly improving economy means more people will travel this holiday weekend,” said David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas.

The weather, he said, will also encourage last-minute travelers.

Clear and dry weather is expected from Friday into Monday for the Carolinas, although temperatures will be a bit chilly for this time of year.

The AAA says 1.34 million Carolinas residents – 897,000 from North Carolina and 443,000 in South Carolina – will travel 50 or more miles this weekend. That is a 1.5 percent increase from a year ago. However, the number of Carolinas residents flying for Memorial Day this year is down 5 percent from last year.

The average distance for a trip is 737 miles, compared to 570 miles a year ago.

If you’re hitting the road, here’s what to expect:

Air travel

Travelers can expected congested parking lots this summer season at Charlotte Douglas, spokeswoman Lee Davis says.

The hourly parking decks in front of the terminal are being torn down, for construction of a new parking tower and car rental facility. That means people who want to park and meet arriving passengers either must use the nearby cellphone lot, or park in a long-term lot and take a shuttle bus to the terminal.

Fees include $5 a day for the long-term lot, and $7 a day for the daily lot. Go to http://parking.charlotteairport.com to check on parking availability.

Gas prices

The average price for a gallon of regular gas this week is $3.42 in North Carolina and $3.24 in South Carolina. Those prices are down more than 20 cents from Easter and about 13 cents from Memorial Day 2012. The national average is $3.66.

Cheapest average price in North Carolina is $3.37 in High Point and $3.38 in Winston-Salem, with the highest being $3.45 in Wilmington. In South Carolina, the cheapest price is $3.19 in Spartanburg, with Charleston’s $3.29 being the most expensive.

You’ll find prices elsewhere in the nation down about the same amount from a year ago, with a notable exception -- the upper Midwest. Gasoline is selling for more than $4 a gallon in North Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, due to refinery outages and extended maintenance. Some analysts had expected price increases to spread across the nation this week, but that has not taken place.

On the roads

The most congested times for road travelers will be from 4-10 p.m. Friday and again from 2-10 p.m. Monday, experts say.

Transportation officials in the Carolinas say construction projects will be halted from early Friday afternoon until Tuesday morning. The exceptions are on U.S. 1 near Southern Pines in Moore County; U.S. 158 in Elizabeth City; and U.S. 17 Business in Jacksonville.

Of course, motorists in the Charlotte area can expect delays Saturday and Sunday near Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Police presence

The Highway Patrol in both states says it will have increased patrols this weekend, as it attempts to put the curbs on speeding and aggressive driving. The N.C. Highway Patrol also is in the midst of the 20th annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign – a push to have motorists use their seat belts.

“I have instructed our troopers to aggressively crack down on motorists who are speeding, driving recklessly, and driving while impaired,” says N.C. Highway Patrol Col. Bill Grey.

he “Click It or Ticket” campaign started in 1993. The previous year, state officials say they responded to more than 38,200 crashes involving people not wearing seat belts. By last year, that number dropped to 8,100. The fine for a seat belt violation citation is $161.

On the water

Highways aren’t the only place with stepped-up police activity over the Memorial Day weekend. The N.C. Highway Patrol, along with local police, Alcohol Law Enforcement and the Wildlife Resources Commission, will have DWI checkpoints near major marinas over the next few days.

The U.S. Coast Guard recently released statistics showing North Carolina has averaged 13.8 alcohol-related boating accidents over the past five years. That ranks sixth in the country (Florida, at 32.2 a year, is first). South Carolina is not among the national leaders over the past five years, but its 14 incidents in 2012 was tied for fifth-highest in the United States.

Weather

Good news here, unless you were hoping for hot weather and a dip in the swimming pool.

A cold front that pushes across the Carolinas during the day Thursday will bring clear, dry and cool weather for the holiday weekend. You can expect sunny skies daily through Sunday, with highs in the 70s. Morning lows will be chilly, with some frost possible early Saturday in the North Carolina mountain valleys. By Monday, clouds are expected to increase, and so will shower chances. But most areas are predicted to remain dry, forecasters say.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107
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