Holiday travel expected to be high

By Ed Brock

Alycia Moorman of College Park is happy to be heading home to Indianapolis for Christmas.

It wasn't her idea to fly out on Friday.

"My grandmother bought the ticket," Moorman said.

And with AAA Auto Club South predicting 62.7 million people to take to the roads, air and train tracks for the Christmas and New Year weekends, 28-year-old Moorman of College Park is planning to deal with holiday travel chaos.

"I'm packing, like, now," said Moorman. "I'll probably get to the airport at 6, maybe even 5:30 a.m. My flight is at 8 a.m."

An improving economy and declining gas prices are two reasons for AAA's prediction that this holiday week will set a new travel record. In the southeast 14 million people are expected to go somewhere, and 80 percent of them are driving 50 miles or more.

"The Christmas-New Year's holiday is a very important time for families to reunite and enjoy the traditions that each generation passes to the next," said Kevin Bakewell, senior vice president of AAA Auto Club South. "Although gasoline prices are significantly higher, up approximately 50 cents per gallon more than Christmas 2003, they've actually decreased during the past month and should have no discernible impact on travel."

According to a AAA survey, 40 percent of the holiday travelers will be going to cities somewhere and 29 percent will be going to towns or rural areas. About 60 percent of the travelers will be staying with relatives or friends.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has a new program aimed at making driving easier during the holidays and other times. As part of the "My NaviGAtor" system that includes a Web site for viewing traffic conditions around the state, GDOT will now send E-mail Traffic Alerts to motorists for free if they are registered on the "My NaviGAtor" site.

Motorists can receive the e-mails on their cell phones, PDAs, pagers or computers and they can tailor the e-mails to be sent for specific routes at specific times of day.

"Motorists commute at different times of day, along different routes, with different strategies for avoiding congestion," said GDOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl. "We designed this service to allow each motorist to focus on the areas and times of day most relevant to their commute."

Go to www.myganav.com to sign up for the alerts. GDOT has also installed plasma screens in welcome centers around the state so that out-of-state motorists can access the Web site.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is expecting 1.99 million passengers to pass through during this week, from this past Sunday to the coming Sunday, airport spokeswoman Lanii Thomas said. A record 1.7 million passengers used the airport during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and traffic was already picking up on Tuesday. The atrium is full of hugging families and soldiers going to or coming from leave.

"It's been very hectic here since last week," Thomas said. "It's Grand Central Station times two."

Thomas said more than 500,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport today and Thursday and about 272,000 will come through on Sunday.

Passengers should check the airport's Web site, www.atlanta-airport.com, for a pop-up window full of tips for expediting their travel experience during the weekend. Along with the usual advice of making sure not to put forbidden items like sharp objects in carry-on bags, the tips also include not wrapping Christmas presents.

Chris Duryea, 19, of Jackson, a student at Clayton College & State University, said he's going to Nashville, Tenn. on Jan. 2 for a student revival with a group from Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church. Fortunately, Duryea said, they're taking a bus.

"We don't have to drive. We get to sleep on the way up there," Duryea said.