News Column

Holiday Travelers Ready for the Road After Harsh Winter

May 23, 2014

Keith Benman, The Times

May 22--Memorial Day weekend travel is set to hit a post-recession high and those traveling by automobile will get a break on gas prices in Chicago and Northwest Indiana.

The AAA's Memorial Day travel forecast says 36.1 million Americans will be traveling 50 miles or more from home as compared to 35.5 million last year. That is the second-highest number in 14 years.

Travel has generally been on an upswing as the Great Recession fades into the rear view mirror for most folks, according to Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for the AAA Chicago Motor Club. But there also appears to be another factor at play.

"It's not only the economy turning around," Mosher said. "We also had a very difficult winter and now folks just want to get away."

Just in time for the weekend, gasoline prices have begun to come off their spring highs, with a gallon of regular going for $3.76 in Indiana this week, as compared to $4.03 one year ago. In Chicago, the average price this week was $3.92 as compared to $4.26 last year.

Air fares are the one travel segment where inflation is starting to heat up, with an average round-trip discounted fare up 6 percent as compared to last year. AAA expects that trend to hold up for the summer.

"If you see a good airline price when you are budgeting, don't think that price is going to come down because it's not," Mosher said.

Travelers on region roads will notice more construction projects this year, where mega-projects associated with Indiana's Major Moves are now giving way to maintenance and repair projects.

INDOT bridge projects scattered across the region will have motorists shifting lanes and in some cases taking detours. Those include INDOT bridge projects on Indianapolis Boulevard in Hammond, Cline Avenue at Gary Avenue in Gary, Interstate 94 at Melton Road in Portage and on Ind. 49 over the Kankakee River south of Kouts.

"One thing we have always been focused on is preservation and maintenance of what we have," said INDOT spokesman Matt Deitchley.

The traditional holiday construction moratorium will be in effect, but INDOT is reminding motorists construction zone speed limits remain in effect.

On the Illinois side of the border, the $600 million interchange project at Interstate 294/Interstate 57 continues to be the largest project motorists might run into on their way to O'Hare International Airport, Wisconsin or points further afield. Impacts on the main arterials remain minimal, with most of the work currently being done off the mainline to construct brand new ramps.

The Illinois Tollway is also calling attention to the recent expansion of its roadside network of 21 cameras that can offer motorists a "birds-eye" view of traffic before they even leave home.

"This expanded camera network is one of several important tools the Tollway provides to help our customers manage their travel decisions, especially during peak travel times and busy summer weekends," said Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur.

An estimated 7.1 million vehicles will travel the Tollway system over the weekend according to Tollway forecasts.

An Illinois Department of Transportation project to rehab the Cal Sag Bridge in Blue Island has closed some lanes but the bridge is still open.

Law enforcement in Illinois already have started running increased patrols and traffic enforcement activities as part of the National Memorial Day Crackdown.

Illinois State Police and IDOT are emphasizing the importance of buckling up, pointing out that although 94 percent of people buckle up when riding in the front seat, crash data shows that half those dying in accidents were not buckled up.


(c)2014 The Times (Munster, Ind.)

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Original headline: Memorial Day travel surges in rough winter's wake

Source: (c)2014 The Times (Munster, Ind.)

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