GDOT to suspend lane closures for holiday AAA releases travel projections

Construction-related lane closures will be suspended during Labor Day weekend for an easier and enjoyable travel experience for motorists, said a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

David Spear said these lane closures will be suspended at 5 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 2, through Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 5 a.m.

Congested holiday traffic is expected across the state during this time, said Spear, and travelers should drive with caution.

"We've averaged nearly 2,000 accidents across our state during recent Labor Day weekends," added GDOT Commissioner Vance Smith. "On average, more than 15 people die and more than 900 are injured on Georgia roads each year during this holiday."

Smith said the Labor Day holiday should be a time of rest and festivities for the working men and women in the U.S., not a time of tragedy. Motorists should be careful and not drive distracted or while impaired, he stressed.

Spokesman Spear said drivers should watch out for crews working at proximity to the highways. Safety concerns may require long-term lane closures to remain intact. "Also, incident management or emergency, maintenance-related lane closures could become necessary at any time on any route," he said.

The number of Americans traveling during the holiday is expected to be relatively unchanged, compared to last year, said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South. These travelers will use various modes of transportation such as a vehicle, airplane, bus or train. An estimated 31.5 million people will travel 50 miles or more away from home, which is a 2.4 percent decline from the 32.3 million travelers last year nationwide, she explained.

Meantime, more motorists nationwide are expected to hit the road this year, said the spokeswoman. There will be 27.3 million drivers compared to last year's 27.2 million, she said.

"Automobile travel remains the dominant mode of holiday transportation," said Brady.

She said a projected 735,038 Georgians that will travel by car this year, which is a .5 percent decrease from 2010.

For AAA, the Labor Day holiday starts Thursday, Sept. 1, and ends Monday, Sept. 5, Brady said.

Only an estimated 49,215 Georgia residents will opt to travel by airplane this year, a 3 percent decline from last year, she said.

Air travel in the U.S. is expected to take a slump of 1.9 percent in contrast to last year, she said. There will be 2.4 million people flying this year, compared to the 2.5 million that flew in 2010.

She said rising fuel costs combined with a steady air travel demand, have caused airfares to rise over the last few months, which is a factor for the projected decline in air travel.

"The decrease in expected travelers is a result of a mixed economic outlook and consumer uncertainty regarding the overall economy," added Brent Hubele, vice president of AAA Travel.

He said the decline this year is small compared to the number of folks that traveled in 2010. This number could increase if retail gasoline prices continue to fall. This may result in more consumers making last minute travel plans, he said.

An estimated 33,908 Georgians will travel by other forms of transportation, which include a bus or train, she said. This category experienced the highest decline in Georgia with 35.5 percent fewer people traveling this way, compared to last year, she explained.

"These modes are more highly utilized by those within lower income brackets, and as such, are highly sensitive to changes in disposable income, as well as the travelers' confidence in the economy and their finances," said Brady.

She said the average distance traveled during the Labor Day weekend is expected to drop to 608 miles this year, from the 635 miles traveled last year. Spending should increase from $697 last year, to $702 in 2011. People will spend 27 percent in fuel and transportation, 21 percent in food and beverage, 13 percent in shopping, 12 percent in entertainment and 5 percent for miscellaneous items.

The projection results were achieved through economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight, a Boston-based economic research and consulting firm, she said.