By John Sharp
Lower gasoline prices and a holiday that falls in the middle of the week are factors in the increased number of people expected to go more than 50 miles from home for the Fourth of July travel period, according to AAA Chicago.
"The holiday being in the middle of the week is playing a substantial role in the number of travelers we're seeing," said Beth Mosher, spokeswoman with AAA. "For a lot of people, it gives them an opportunity to take one extended weekend and leave this Friday or Saturday and then take 10 days of vacation they wouldn't get any other years."
AAA projects 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday weekend, a 4.9 percent increase from the 40.3 million people who traveled during last year's holiday.
Illinois travelers mirror the national trend, with 2.4 million people traveling, 4.9 percent more than a year ago.
Drivers in central Illinois are paying an average $3.39 a gallon for regular self-served unleaded this week, according to AAA (prices were about a dime lower in Springfield on Friday). The average cost was $3.67 a month ago and $3.55 a gallon at this point last year.
Jalee Scott of Peoria is driving to Indianapolis to see her sister on Tuesday, the day before the Fourth of July. Falling gas prices and competitive airfares were not a determining factor for the trip.
"No matter what, she's going to do it," Jalee Scott's husband, Dick, said while fueling up her vehicle this week at a Shell station in North Peoria.
According to AAA, the holiday travel period will be spread out, with 54 percent of people planning to start their travel before Monday. The AAA survey reports that 29 percent will travel on Friday, 16 percent Saturday, 13 percent Sunday, 11 percent Monday, 19 percent Tuesday and 16 percent Wednesday.
In other words, there will be no massive departure date — whether on the road or in the air — compared to other holidays with fixed dates such as Thanksgiving.
In Illinois, the biggest holiday traveling boost is in the air, with just more than 101,000 people flying to their destinations, or a 12.2 percent increase from last year.
The Illinois Department of Transportation will not suspend any of its construction activity until Tuesday, leaving the orange cones and reduced speed limits out during the weekend. IDOT plans to suspend construction from mid-Tuesday through Wednesday, though an official announcement isn't expected until Monday.
Illinois State Police Trooper Dustin Pierce said in some construction sites, normal speeds will return for the two-day respite from road work.
"It's probably going to be a case-by-case basis," Pierce said.
State Journal-Register business editor Tim Landis contributed to this report. John Sharp can be reached at 686-3282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.