Long holiday weekend expected to be busy

Published: Thursday, May 24 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

Matt Visser and Luke Whatcott check out a tent as sales associate Daniel Benites talks with Chris Blight, far right, at REI in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 24, 2012. Blight bought a sleeping bag for camping this weekend, but said he would go to Wendover if all the camping spots were taken.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Scores of travelers are expected to hit the road this weekend as Memorial Day, established as a day of remembrance of those who have died serving the country, also serves as the unofficial start of the summer travel season.

AAA Utah’s travel survey projects that 2.5 million Intermountain West residents plan on traveling at least 50 miles this weekend, a 1.6 percent increase over last year.

“High debt burdens, gasoline prices and uncertainties regarding the strength of the current economic recovery have not deterred (Intermountain) West residents from holiday travel,” said AAA Utah spokesperson Rolayne Fairclough.

“Many consumers intend to cut back on the distance they travel, as well on entertainment expenses, to compensate for reduced travel budgets. Others will be opting for backyard barbeques, a staple of this three-day holiday weekend,” Fairclough said.      

While more people will drive to their destinations, air travel is expected to be down by 5.2 percent compared to 2011. Approximately 223,000 Mountain West residents are expected to travel by other modes of transportation, such as rail, buses and watercraft — up nearly 14 percent over 2011.

Here's a look at what travelers can expect:

Gas prices

The AAA survey revealed that about half of respondents will not let fuel prices alter their Memorial Day travel plans. But 34 percent of travelers surveyed said they would economize in other areas, such as spending less on entertainment, staying at lower priced hotels or staying with family and friends.

Airfares over Memorial Day weekend are expected to be 7 percent lower than last year, while hotel rates are up 8 percent from a year ago, while weekend car rental rates remained virtually the same. The expenditures of a Mountain West family of four will average just over $652 for the weekend and the average road trip will cover about 677 miles, AAA reported.

"Our gasoline prices are some of the lowest in the country in the winter months, and then become among the highest in the summer months," Fairclough said.

The current price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Utah is around $3.77, compared to $3.67 nationally. Last month, the state average was at $3.71, while the national average was at $3.85 per gallon.

Highway safety

Highway construction zones will continue to impact drivers throughout Utah and officials from both the Department of Transportation and Utah Highway Patrol are urging drivers to be vigilant while driving through work zones. So far in 2012, there have been two fatalities in work zones. Last year, eight people died in work zone-related traffic incidents — commonly due to speed, distracted driving and not buckling up.

According to UDOT’s most recent fatality report, traffic-related deaths are higher than at the same point last year. To date, there have been 74 fatalities on Utah’s roads. A vast majority of these fatalities could have been prevented, said Robert Hull, UDOT director of traffic and safety.

“When we talk about safety on our roads, we often refer to something known as the four E's — engineering improvements on the roads, educational programs for new and existing drivers, enforcement partnerships to help ensure proper driving behavior and emergency medical services efforts to maximize the possibility of saving lives,” Hull said.

“A fifth ‘E’ is vital to achieving our goal of zero fatalities: everyone. It takes all of us to keep our roads safe and make sure we all get home at night.”

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