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Millions to be on roads for holidays
Year-end holiday travel projections for Virginia above the average over past 10 years

Date published: 12/20/2012

BY SCOTT SHENK

The final holiday break of 2012 is upon us, and AAA expects millions to clog the roads again this year.

The auto club projects a tiny increase in Christmas and New Year's travelers compared to last year, with 2.7 million Virginians expected to travel 50 miles or more for the upcoming holiday period, Dec. 22 through Jan. 1, 2013. While the increase in travelers this year is modest, AAA pointed out that the year-end holiday travel projections for Virginia are close to the decade-high figures from two years ago and above the average for the past 10 years.

"The fact that the number of Virginians expected to travel this year-end exceeds the decade-high average by 4 percent illustrates the importance of being with loved ones for the holidays, regardless of a struggling economy," AAA's Martha Mitchell Meade said in the auto club's holiday travel prediction.

Nationally, AAA says that 93.3 million people will take trips of 50 miles or more, a 1.6 percent increase over last year. That projection is not far from the decade-high mark set in 2006.

Most travelers--2.4 million in Virginia; 84.4 million nationwide--are expected to hit the road for their trips.

While those who drive can take joy in the fact that gas prices have dropped about 50 cents a gallon since September, prices at the pump "remain at record highs for this time of year," the auto club said.

The average gas price nationwide will probably average between $3.20 and $3.40 per gallon, AAA said.

In Virginia, the average price of gas stands at $3.11, 4 cents lower than the same period last year. Locally, the average price of a gallon of regular is $3.10, according to AAA. Last year at the same time, it was $3.09.

Those who drive will have to contend with more traffic, but at least roadwork will be put on pause.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will suspend lane closures in work zones during the holiday period--from noon Monday through noon Wednesday for Christmas travelers. For those traveling around New Year's, lane closures will be lifted from noon Dec. 31 through noon on Jan. 2. Other states typically do the same.

For those drivers needing a rental car, you won't be getting any breaks. AAA said rates are up 41 percent this year.

Those who fly, though, will pay lower rates, about 3 percent less than last year. And AAA expects more people will fly this year, projecting that 5.6 million will take a plane to their holiday destination, a 4.5 percent increase over 2011.

The other modes of transportation--such as trains, buses and cruise ships--will account for about 3.3 million travelers nationwide, AAA projects.

AAA predicts that holiday travelers will go farther and spend more, too, with this year's travelers doling out an average of $759--6 percent more than last year.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
Email: sshenk@freelancestar.com