published Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Labor Day weekend to put thousands on road

Traffic moves along Interstate 24 eastbound near the I-75 split Thursday afternoon.
Traffic moves along Interstate 24 eastbound near the I-75 split Thursday afternoon.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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TRAVEL BREAKDOWN

More than one million Tennesseans and Georgians are expected to travel this weekend. Here’s how their travel plans break down.

Thousands traveling from Georgia/Tennessee

Auto: 735/541

Air: 49/26

Bus/train: 34/11

Total: 818/579

Source: AAA Auto Club South


LOCAL GAS PRICES

Thursday: $3.47

Last week: $3.46

Last month: $3.58

Last year: $2.50

Source: AAA Auto Club


NEED A RIDE?

People who party a bit too much over the holiday weekend can call for a free ride and free car tow home, thanks to AAA and Budweiser. Call 1-800-222-4357 and tell the operator you’re calling for Tow to Go service. A tow truck will come to your location and drive you and your car home, free of charge, no questions asked.

Chattanooga hotels are almost fully booked in preparation for the flood of motorists hopping in their cars and heading toward the Scenic City for Labor Day weekend.

“It’s kind of a last hurrah for the season and typically it’s a busy time,” said Bob Doak, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It has a significant impact on the community.”

This year’s Labor Day weekend is expected to have about the same impact as last year’s. AAA projects 541,330 Tennesseans and 735,038 Georgians will travel 50 miles or more by car this year, down just 0.2 and 0.5 percent respectively over last year. Nationally, they expect 27.3 million auto travelers, up 0.05 percent from 2010.

Joanna Newton, spokeswoman for AAA, said some people who put off plans last weekend for fear of Hurricane Irene will pack up the family and hit the road this weekend instead.

Even with gas prices up nearly $1 per gallon over last year, 87 percent of all trips this weekend are expected to be by road, up 3 percent over last year.

“People want that lost shot as we go into the end of summer,” Newton said. “They think, ‘Well, We’ve got to do something. Let’s make a quick road trip.’”

Gas prices were on Fort Pierce, Fla., resident Lupe Gonzales’ mind as she stopped at the Interstate 75 welcome center to walk her Pomeranian dog Thursday afternoon.

She had climbed into her SUV around 5 a.m. and still had a long way to go on her more than 1,000-mile journey to a family reunion in Indiana.

“I’ll probably spend $400, $450 just to get up there,” she said.

But Cornelia, Ga., residents Gerald and Jane Dunham weren’t worried about gas when they packed up their car and drove toward Kentucky to visit family.

The middle-aged couple said they make the drive two or three times a year and aren’t usually held back by gas prices. But they were a little leery of all the cars on the road.

“Holiday weekends aren’t conducive to old people traveling,” Gerald Dunham said. “The traffic can be a bit much.”

The Tennessee Department of Transportation is helping traffic move as smoothly as possible this weekend by putting lane closures for construction on hold from noon today until 6 a.m. Tuesday.

The $2 million repair of the Loudon County Interstate 75 bridge is included in that construction suspension. Two lanes will be open in both directions to accommodate for holiday travelers and fans driving to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville for the Vols’ home opener Saturday against Montana.

“We just want to make sure the people who are enjoying themselves on this unofficial last weekend of summer can get to where they’re going safely and quickly,” TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said.

As for safety, the Tennessee Highway Patrol will have every available officer on patrol looking for aggressive, drunk and speeding drivers. There will be about 80 DUI and driver’s license checkpoints throughout the state this weekend, including six in the Chattanooga area.

Last year, 10 motorists were killed in 10 accidents over Labor Day weekend. That number was down from 11 deaths in 2009, according to THP Lt. John Harmon.

“We want to continue that trend this year,” he said. “We want you to buckle up, don’t drink and drive, and drive the speed limit.”

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