It's the question every parent taking their family on vacation has heard: "Are we there yet?"
That restless wonderment might be heard from more kids this summer, as vacationers in the Northwest are expected to drive to summer destinations in much larger numbers than last year.
The American Automobile Association surveyed potential travelers in the Pacific region — encompassing Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington — and projects a 19.3 percent increase over 2009 in the number of people vacationing 50 miles or more from home. Most of the region’s 5.45 million people traveling say they will do so by car, with only 400,000 expected to fly to their destination.
“It’s a great economic indicator that people are spending their discretionary income on traveling,” said AAA Washington public relations manager Jennifer Cook. “Prices are going back up, but there are a lot of people who didn’t vacation last year that want to take the opportunity now.”
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One price that has risen since last year is gasoline, albeit only seven cents. Gas is up from a statewide average of $2.91 last year to $2.98 per gallon. It’s a figure that isn’t scaring many people — and that’s a good thing, according to Cook.
“It’s not like it was in 2008 when we almost hit $4 per gallon,” Cook said. “People for the most part are determined to get out this year and enjoy life away from home for a bit.”
Summer weather not only sees vacationers flock to the roads in greater numbers, but it spells an equally good opportunity for road construction crews to make progress on projects. The Washington State Department of Transportation is working on three such projects from Centralia to Tacoma in efforts to widen Interstate 5 – traffic headaches already for many for sure, and with the number of summer travelers expected to increase, WSDOT officials are planning to relieve some of the pain especially around the Independence Day weekend.
“We really don’t want to inconvenience drivers over the Fourth, so we won’t be closing lanes for five days over the weekend,” said WSDOT Olympic region spokesperson Emily Pace. “There will still be lane shifts and speed reductions, so drivers still need to exercise more caution than normal in construction zones.”
WSDOT is warning drivers to slow down to the posted speed limit in work zones, especially in times of increased traffic volume such as Independence Day weekend and other summer weekends in which heavy travel may be involved. Just because there may not be a lane closure happening doesn’t necessarily mean workers are gone from the work site, says Pace.
“We’re really asking people to slow down, especially when they might be in a hurry to get to their destination faster, a possible accident isn’t worth the extra hour or so you might gain in the long run on a trip,” Pace said.
Traffic increases to its highest point for summer travel around July 2 and 5, according to Transportation’s Alice Fiman. People generally tend to leave two days prior to Independence Day and come back promptly the next day, causing a major traffic impact in Lewis and Thurston counties — an impact that could test the patience of drivers bound for points far beyond home.
“There are probably going to be a lot of unfamiliar drivers with the area because people are coming from everywhere else to go on vacation as well,” Fiman said. “That’s all the more reason for everyone to be safe, relax and enjoy the trip wherever you might go.”
BEAT THE TRAFFIC
The DOT has released its estimates for travel over the upcoming Independence Day weekend, and the data have some tidbits of knowledge to help potentially beat the traffic.
Officials expect traffic to be at its highest points on I-5 northbound from Chehalis to Olympia between 2 and 5 p.m. Friday and noon to 6 p.m. July 5 in the reverse direction.
“Traffic flow in the summer is up from normal levels because of people’s staggered vacation schedules,” Alice Fiman of WSDOT said.
Alice Fiman of WSDOT offered some ideas to consider for families packing up and hitting the road, especially over the Independence Day weekend:
• Plan travel routes before taking off.
• Leave early in the morning, if possible.
• Spread out travel time to avoid urban rush hour traffic.
• Ensure the car is filled with enough fuel in problem areas.
WSDOT maintains current road conditions and travel information at www.wsdot.wa.gov.