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Memorial Day travel forecast: Busy

More than 36 milliAmericans are expected travel 50 miles or more this weekend up from about 34.8 milliwho traveled for

More than 36 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more this weekend, up from about 34.8 million who traveled for Memorial Day weekend last year. | Post-Tribune file photo

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Updated: June 24, 2014 6:18AM



Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of the summer travel season, and experts say more travelers will take to the roads — and skies — this summer, a sign of an improving economy, while gas prices should be a bit more palatable than last year.

More than 36 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this weekend, and that includes 800,000 Hoosiers.

“The numbers are up year over year. We are seeing travel increase both in Indiana and nationally, and that’s with every type of travel,” said Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for AAA Chicago.

About 34.8 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day weekend last year which, with Labor Day, typically vies for last place for travel among the five major holiday times, Mosher said.

Even as the number of travelers has crept up overall, Mosher said air travel has been down, until recently. Air travel for Indiana residents is up 4.2 percent over last year. “To see such a significant increase tells us the economy is really turning around.”

Though the demand for gasoline is hard to forecast, said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, he expects it to be up slightly because of the improving economy.

He also expects gas prices to hold under $4 per gallon for the season, in the “upper $3s and perhaps the mid-$3s,” not passing the $4 mark as they did last year.

Last year’s gas prices for this area peaked at $4.29 on June 5, but the completion of the modernization project at the BP refinery in Whiting should help hold prices down this season, DeHaan said.

“It’s the largest refinery in the Midwest,” he said.

According to figures provided by GasBuddy.com, prices so far this year peaked around mid-April at $3.94 a gallon, and were around $3.72 on Wednesday.

One of the factors for an uptick in prices this time of year is a summer blend for gasoline, which is cleaner burning. That blend hits retailers on June 1 every year and remains at the pumps through Sept. 15, which is why drivers see prices jump every spring.

“The warmer weather makes all the difference,” he said, adding without the different blend, mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “we would have more smog.”

The good news for drivers this weekend is that the Indiana Department of Transportation is halting work on a number of projects in the region from around noon Friday until the morning hours on Tuesday.

“Whenever possible, road restrictions will be removed to ease traffic flow for the influx of holiday drivers,” according to a news release. “Some closures and restrictions will remain on larger projects that cannot be safely reopened to traffic for the weekend.”

Once the long weekend is over, drivers can expect the work to resume, with more to come.

ITR Concession Co., which owns the Indiana Toll Road, will begin work on June 2 on the second phase of the Lake Station interchange. Improvements to the Salt Creek Bridge, near Portage, also starts after Memorial Day.



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