A phenomenon that happens about once every seven years takes place this week.
The Fourth of July falls on a Wednesday.
As a result, there won't be the usual three- or four-day weekend for most people. Some manufacturing plants will close for the week, as they traditionally do for the Fourth, but most businesses will give employees only Wednesday off.
"Because it falls in the middle of the week, people are piggybacking two days before or after the Fourth," Shawn Kaup, director of marketing and public relations for AAA Central Penn, said last week.
The mid-week Fourth means travel plans are scattered.
Instead of having one or two heavy traffic days, holiday departures will be spread out over six days, according to a survey
conducted by D.K. Shifflet & Associates for AAA. This past Friday was expected to be the busiest day, with 25 percent of travelers heading out on vacations that day -- followed, in order, by Tuesday (19 percent), Wednesday and Saturday (16 percent), today (13 percent) and Monday (11 percent).
A combination of lower gas prices and an improving economy mean that more people are expected to be traveling than in the past few years.
"The general climate for travel has increased," Kaup said. "There were a higher amount of travel-oriented visitors in the spring and summer. The forecast for the rest of the summer is that this will be one of the highest numbers in the last 10 years. Airline travel has increased 9 percent this year after it was
anemic the last five years."
AAA projects 42.3 million people will travel over the Fourth of July. If that happens, it would equal the 2007 total, which was the highest number of travelers during the past decade. Last year, 40.3 million people traveled during the early summer holiday.
Of the 42.3 million expected to travel this week, 35.5 million are expected to drive, with 3.2 million flying and the other 3.6 million taking other transportation, like trains or ships.
"If people are traveling, they're spending money," Kaup said. "It's a good thing for the economy. Consumer confidence is creeping back up."
Five months ago, gas prices were pushing $4 a gallon, with some doomsday forecasters anticipating $5 a gallon gas by Memorial Day.
Instead, gas prices have steadily fallen and are now between $3.15 and $3.19 a gallon at most area gas stations. The state average was $3.24 on Wednesday, Kaup noted.
According to The Associated Press, the national average was $3.40 per gallon on Tuesday, 18 cents cheaper than it was a year ago at this time. It is below $4 in every state in the continental United States.
With the holiday in mid-week, some local residents intend to take a day trip Wednesday, like Leigh Beamesderfer, a Lebanon County Conservation District forester who will head to Cecil County, Md., in search of crabs at Rising Sun or North East.
"Hopefully, it will be as nice as it is now," she said while pumping gas at the Sheetz station in North Cornwall Township last week. "We'll be watching fireworks on TV."
Anyone driving south will like what they see at gas pumps.
John and Pam Raytick of Lebanon drove to Myrtle Beach, S.C., a week ago.
"Gas prices dropped along the way," Pam wrote in a text message. "(Wednesday) in North Myrtle Beach we paid $2.99 per gallon."
Anita Furyak of Cornwall won't be traveling this week but plans to head to Bethany Beach, Del., with her daughter and 4-year-old grandson later this month.
"It's time to take him to the beach," Furyak said. "I like Bethany. It's not crowded, and it's a nice area."
Like Furyak, Gary Gristick of North Cornwall Township does not plan to travel this week but will instead make a trip to the Jersey shore to visit Wildwood late this month.
Ken and Holly Brandt and their son, Kenny, will hit the road next week for some college visits and day trips. Kenny will graduate from Lebanon High School next year.
"We actually started planning the night before school ended," Holly said.
The Brandts' itinerary includes the University of Virginia on July 9; Gettysburg College on July 13; Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, N.J., on July 14; Knoebels Amusement Park in Northumberland County on July 16; and West Chester University on July 17. Ken and Faye Brown, Holly's parents, will be doing the driving on some of those days.
That's about 1,160 miles, including the 490-mile round trip to Charlottesville, Va.
"Gas prices will not affect us since we have these already planned," Holly said.
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