August 29, 2011 in City

Getting There: Lower gas prices will fuel excursions

AAA predicts increase in holiday travel
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A slight drop in the price of gasoline in the past month is going to result in a steady stream of traffic on highways this Labor Day weekend, AAA predicts.

An estimated 27.3 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more by automobile this holiday weekend, up from the 27.2 million who traveled by personal vehicles last Labor Day.

Gasoline prices in Washington have dropped a few pennies on average this month, but the cost of a gallon is still 67 cents higher than a year ago.

Even so, Americans say they intend to take those last big trips of the summer season.

Overall, the number of people traveling will be down, in part because higher air fares in recent months have reduced the number of air travelers.

AAA expects 31.5 million travelers, compared with 32.3 million a year ago.

That number could increase if gasoline prices drop some more this week in response to lower crude-oil prices.

Airfares are 13 percent higher than a year ago. On top of that, airlines are charging more fees.

Hotel rates are up 6 percent from a year ago with the average night costing $148 versus $139 last year.

AAA two-diamond hotels are going to be 8 percent higher.

However, rental cars are down by 7 percent, to an average of $43 a day at weekend rates.

Median spending will be $702, and the average travel distance is expected to be 608 miles.

“The decrease in expected travelers is being driven by a mixed economic outlook, consumer uncertainty regarding the overall economy, and recent downturns in economic factors that affect discretionary income, which is particularly relevant to the travel and tourism industry,” AAA said in a news release last week.

AAA uses an economic forecasting and research firm to develop the forecast.

Motoring, mutts can be a bad mix

Another survey by AAA showed that dog owners frequently engage in risky practices when they take Fido for a ride.

AAA teamed up with Kurgo, a manufacturer of pet travel products, and they discovered that 56 percent of drivers interviewed said they have taken their dog for a ride in the past month.

Most of them admit petting their dog while driving.

Nearly a quarter of drivers used their hands or arms to hold their dog in place while braking, while 19 percent used hands or arms to keep the dog out of the front seat.

Saving green, not being green

Since we are on the subject of surveys, PEMCO Insurance found that most drivers are trying to conserve fuel not to be green, but to save money.

Eighty percent of drivers said they try to drive evenly rather than accelerate fast and brake hard. Sixty percent said they keep proper tire inflation, while 40 percent make sure they aren’t carrying unneeded cargo.

The mammoth construction project to widen Interstate 90 just east of Snoqualmie Pass has been recognized for its environmental sensitivity.

The Federal Highway Administration is going to give the state Department of Transportation its Environmental Excellence Award for the way the project was designed and is being built.

New wildlife underpasses and wider stream culverts will allow for animals and fish to move beneath the freeway. Accidents with animals should be reduced as a result.

Also, a nearby snow park is being used to stockpile excavated rock for later use in the expanded roadway. That has reduced the number of miles and amount of fuel consumed by trucks working on the project.

Freeway blasting schedule set

Rock blasting for the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass project is planned for Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. for an hour each day. The roadway will be closed to traffic during the blasts and cleanup.

In addition, nighttime travel westbound will be restricted to one lane this week. The eastbound lane will be reduced to one lane on Thursday night only.

Road closures in the area

In Spokane, the Hatch Road Bridge over Latah Creek at U.S. Highway 195 will be closed from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday for maintenance.

At Francis Avenue and Addison Street, a project to install a new concrete intersection and to upgrade traffic signals got under way last week.

Francis is reduced to one lane in each direction and Addison is closed to traffic.

The city is financing the $641,000 project with a state transportation grant and real estate excise tax collections in the city.

Nearby, Nevada Street from Broad to Decatur avenues is closed for a $1.6 million reconstruction project financed through a 2004 voter-approved property tax.

Upriver Drive is closed from Rebecca Street to Frederick Avenue for sewer installation.

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