The number of travelers heading out this Memorial Day weekend should increase for the first time since peaking five years ago, a sign that the nation’s economy is rebounding.
The AAA auto club is forecasting a 5.4 percent increase in travelers going 50 miles or more from their homes this weekend. A total of 32.1 million people are expected on roads or rails and in the skies.
Trips by automobile should increase 5.8 percent, to 28 million travelers.
The Pacific states should see an even larger increase of 7.8 percent, with 5.13 million people leaving home in Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii.
Travel numbers nationally would be even higher if not for the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which is expected to discourage seaside visits across the Southern U.S., said Jennifer Cook, public relations manager for AAA Washington.
AAA based its forecast on a methodical survey that showed the anticipated increase is due to a rise in consumer sentiment, improved economic well-being and pent-up travel demand.
In addition, Memorial Day is on May 31 this year. “When it falls later, more people travel,” Cook said.
In recent years, the number of travelers over Memorial Day has declined steadily. In 2005, the number spiked to 44 million travelers and has not come close since. Total travelers had fallen to 30.5 million as of last year, according to AAA.
“I’m not sure why there was such a peak in ’05,” Cook said.
Cook said that AAA Washington’s auto travel counselors reported that the most popular Pacific coast regional destinations are national parks, the Oregon beaches, Southern California and Las Vegas.
Locally, motorists may encounter construction on highways, but most projects are being shut down for the holiday starting at noon on Friday, said Al Gilson, spokesman for the Washington Department of Transportation.
Work has been under way on Snoqualmie Pass, but lane restrictions that have been occurring in recent weeks are expected to be lifted with at least two lanes moving in each direction.
Criminals less likely to ‘click it’
Law enforcement officers may have found an even better reason to enforce seat belt laws – especially at night.
The state’s annual Click It or Ticket program starts tonight and will continue through June 6. Emphasis patrols will be out locally.
According to a study undertaken through the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, unbelted drivers were three times more likely to have a felony record; twice as likely to have a criminal record for violent offenses; three times more likely to have a DUI; and more than two times as likely to have negligent or reckless driving violations on their records.
The results came from an effort by researchers who monitored drivers at gas stations in five Washington cities and checked records on more than 5,000 of those motorists, the commission said.
As a result, the commission is cautioning officers to be especially cautious in approaching unbuckled drivers at night.
Washington has one of the highest seat belt use rates in the U.S. at 96.4 percent. The Click It program dates to 2002.
North Side repaving project under way
Work is under way on a big repaving project for North Division Street north of the Spokane city limits. The job runs from the Y at the intersection of Division and U.S. Highway 2 northward on U.S. Highway 395 to the Stevens County line, a distance of 19 miles.
Inland Asphalt of Spokane is doing the $4 million job mostly during nighttime hours.
Old pavement will be ground and replaced with a new layer of asphalt. In addition, there will be guardrail, sidewalk and sign upgrades.
The newer section of U.S. 395 from the Little Spokane River north to Fender Road is not included.
Freya bridge could reopen by Friday
The new Freya Street Bridge, under reconstruction since last August, is expected to reopen as early as Friday, city officials said. The $7 million project crosses BNSF Railway lines between Sprague and Trent avenues and is a major north-south route in Spokane.