Aug. 28--The vacation season will end on an upbeat note, with Labor Day travel hitting its highest level in six years and drivers paying considerably less for gas than they did during Memorial Day weekend, according to an Automobile Club of Southern California survey.
More than 2.48 million Southland residents will take trips over the three-day weekend that starts Friday, up 1.6 percent from last year.
It's the highest Labor Day travel volume since the Great Recession ended but will be under the record 3.2 million Southern California residents who took mini vacations over Labor Day in 2008, the club said. This year's total also falls short of Labor Day travel volume in the early part of the last decade.
The vast majority of travelers -- 80 percent -- will be road trippers driving to always-popular destinations such as San Diego, the Grand Canyon and the Central Coast wine country.
"It's just kind of climbing back from the recession coupled with the willingness on the part of consumers to use credit cards to pay for travel," club spokeswoman Marie Montgomery said of the increase. "During the recession people were more reluctant to do that, and now people are more confident about taking that expense on."
Planes, trains and buses are always less popular travel options over long weekend holidays, the club said; those categories are either up slightly for this Labor Day or flat.
But drivers will be catching a nice price break at the pump.
"We're much lower now," Montgomery said of the gasoline prices now versus the start of summer.
In the Los Angeles metro area on Thursday, a gallon of regular was priced at $3.83 and in the Inland Empire it averaged $3.80, both flat from a year earlier.
Leading up to the Memorial Day summer kickoff, a gallon of regular sold for an average $4.17 in Los Angeles and $4.13 in the Inland Empire.
In the last month alone, gas prices have dropped 15 percent.
Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at GasBuddy.com, said that drivers can find prices under the average by shopping around.
"Average prices for gas are a lot like hot dogs. You can find them cheaper when you shop around," he said.
For example, a Brooklyn Dodger Dog at Dodger stadium costs $7.50 versus the jumbo dog off the Home Depot flat-top grill for $2.50.
Arco and Costco set the low price bar in this gas market, Kloza said. And more price drops should come after Labor Day, he added, when gasoline demand drops by about 17 million gallons a day, Kloza said.
Oil production is up nationally as well.
"Today the government said that (year to date) we have the highest U.S. crude oil production since the Mets won the World Series in 1986. That's a long time," Kloza said. "And it's easier to save money because the wholesale market calmed in July and August."
Statewide the number of travelers is expected to increase from 3.93 million last year to 3.99 million this year.
"As the summer ends, we are entering the 'shoulder' travel season and even though Labor Day is a three-day weekend, it can often be a more affordable travel holiday than other peak times such as Christmas and July Fourth," Filomena Andre, the Auto Club's vice president for travel products and services, said in a statement.
Numerous road construction projects that include road closures are under way in the Los Angeles County area, though a Caltrans spokeswoman said there are no major freeway shutdowns planned. Details can be found at www.dot.ca.gov/hq/roadinfo/Hourly.
There will be one major closure in the Inland Empire. One lane of the connector road from the north bound I-15 to westbound 91 Freeway will be closed from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday night, said John Stabdiford, spokesman for the Riverside County Transportation Commission.
Camping is always a popular Labor Day endeavor and there are six camp sites within easy driving range for residents. But it's not an option for procrastinators.
"They all appear to be booked for Labor Day weekend, but we do have some camping available at other parks. They are on our website (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=737), and we compile a list (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=27956) every year to let campers know which spots are available," department spokesman Vicky Waters said in an email.
Travelers will enjoy typical end-of-summer weather across the region over the long weekend, according to the website Accuweather.com. In the Los Angeles basin, temperatures will remain in a narrow range of a high of 87 today to 85 on Monday. The high will be 89 on Sunday and skies will be mostly sunny all weekend.
The Inland Empire will be the region's hot spot, with a high of 99 Friday and only moderating to 95 by Monday.
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: Labor Day weekend: Travel is up and gas are prices down
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