Roads will be crowded for Memorial Day travel

05/21/2014 2:32 PM

05/21/2014 7:13 PM

If you’re planning to go somewhere this Memorial Day weekend, you’ll be joining a near-record number of fellow travelers.

AAA is projecting the number of California travelers will be the highest since the start of the last recession.

Nearly 4.3 million Californians plan to travel 50 miles or more over the three-day weekend, up 1.8 percent from last year, according to AAA’s recent travel survey.

“Californians are hitting the roads and planning their getaways for the official summer travel kickoff,” said Pablo O’Brien, vice president of travel products for AAA Northern California. He attributed the increased traffic to the “economic upturn,” which has boosted consumer confidence and spending.

Nate White will be among those traveling a bit closer to home. White said in a comment on The Bee’s Facebook page that he plans to take his girlfriend to the Castle Air Museum on Sunday. “Even better, it’s Open Cockpit Day, too,” he said.

It should be a nice day for it, if a bit toasty as the afternoon goes on.

The National Weather Service predicts highs in the 90s over the holiday weekend, with temperatures topping out at about 94 on Sunday before dropping a few degrees for Memorial Day.

AAA projects that more than 3.5 million Californians will drive to their destinations, more than 400,000 will fly and nearly 300,000 will travel by other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruises. Nationally, AAA projects that more 36 million people will journey 50 miles or more during the Memorial Day weekend, a 1.5 percent increase over last year.

The California Highway Patrol is warning drivers that officers will be out in force from Friday evening through Monday. It’s one of the CHP’s maximum-enforcement periods. Officers hope for a better result than last year, when 60 people died in crashes on California roads over the Memorial Day weekend, a 60 percent increase from 2012, the CHP said in a news release.

“We encourage the public to put measures in place ahead of time to help make their road trip safe and enjoyable,” Commissioner Joe Farrow said. “Leave early and allow for additional traffic delays, eliminate distractions behind the wheel, buckle up and always designate a sober driver.”

Local law enforcement agencies will be out, as well. The “Avoid the 12” task force will conduct saturation patrols and DUI checkpoints in locations throughout Stanislaus County.

Falling gas prices are helping encourage people to hit the road. According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of unleaded gas in Modesto on Wednesday was $4.025. That’s down 3 cents from a week ago, but still about 3 cents higher than this time last year.

It’s enough to keep Sarah Lozano from going anywhere.

“We’re staying home (and) having a barbecue,” she wrote on The Bee’s Facebook page. “Gas is too high to go anywhere!”

Peggy Angulo takes a more philosophical approach. She said the gas prices won’t affect her plans.

“All in all, you have to pay the price if you want to do something,” she wrote. “(It) just would be nice not to pay so much.”

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

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