Thursday, May 23, 2002

Holiday forecast: More on the road

Lower gas prices push car getaways

By Tom O'Neill,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For reasons ranging from the fall in gas prices to the rise in concern over air safety, travelers are hitting the road this weekend.

        This Memorial Day weekend, typically the first three-day getaway of the year, is expected to bring a 2.1 percent increase from a year ago in road trips more than 50 miles from home, according to Travel Industry Association of America/AAA statistics.

        That's up from last year, when local gas prices averaged $1.80 and were rising. The local average on Wednesday was $1.44 in Cincinnati, $1.47 in Northern Kentucky and $1.40 nationally, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

        Air travel this weekend is projected to be down 7.3 percent from last year nationally, and down 4.4 percent in the region that includes Cincinnati, a trend that began with Sept. 11, according to AAA.

        All the better for Bob Callahan, general manager of Walton, Ky.-based Travel America, which has seen a leap in bus tours, especially involving church- and civic-groups.

        “I think they do it because it's safer,” he said Wednesday. “Since Sept. 11, I think people are re-evaluating their destinations, and who they travel with.”

        The usual day's-drive destinations for Greater Cincinnatians still dominate: Smoky Mountain National Park and Gatlinburg in Tennessee; Chicago; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Branson, Mo., Mackinack Island, Mich.

        Some less-common spots, however, are emerging with a common thread. “Gettysburg, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell,” Mr. Callahan said. “I think people's values are changing. They say "Hey we got a great country, let's go see it.'”

        Some locals are taking that to new lengths.

        Among requests for TripTiks at AAA's Cincinnati office, “We're seeing lots of Gatlinburg and Chicago,” said spokeswoman Christina Mullis, “but a lot of people are starting vacations, so we're seeing more trips out west, California.”

        Local interstate highway construction is the lightest it's been in more than a decade. The four biggest projects are on the Interstate 275 beltway, where construction zone speed limits will be in effect but no lane closures.

        Other key construction areas are I-74 near Indianapolis, I-75 just north of Dayton, Ohio, and on I-71/75 near Walton.


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