Gas prices are not expected to rise much for the Memorial Day weekend, but travel is expected to be heavy. This scene looks south on I-75 toward downtown Dayton. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

More than 1.6 million Ohioans to travel for Memorial Day; gas prices slightly up

This is the last holiday before Ohio raises the gas tax on July 1

More than 1.6 million Ohioans will travel during the holiday weekend, said Cindy Antrican, spokeswoman for AAA of Miami Valley.

Nationally, nearly 43 million will travel this holiday weekend meaning more people will hit the road than any time since 2005, according to AAA. Altogether an additional 1.5 million people will take to the nation’s roads, rails and runways, accounting for a 3.6 percent increase in travelers since this weekend last year.

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“As usual the majority of those people are going to be driving,” Antrican said.

The increased holiday traffic will come even as gas prices are expected to rise just before the weekend starts. Average gas prices in southwest Ohio are expected to increase by about 10 to 20 cents in the next few days, meaning prices will typically be somewhere between $2.78 and $2.88 per gallon, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for the website GasBuddy, which tracks the price of gasoline both locally and nationally.

“We’ll see a spike that brings gas prices up and then they’ll start to trickle back down,” DeHaan said. “But, there’s a good chance we’ve already seen the high water mark for the year.”

Gas prices in the region are down by about 18 cents from this time last year, according to GasBuddy. The cheapest gas available in the Dayton area was $2.42 per gallon as of Wednesday, GasBuddy showed.

Memorial Day will be the last holiday before Ohio raises its gasoline tax on July 1. In April, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill to raise the gas tax 10.5 cents to help pay for road construction projects.

Though gripes about higher gas prices are common around holidays, DeHaan said that’s actually a myth and that prices go up and down for various reasons that have more to do with geopolitics. Throught May alone gas prices in the Dayton region have fluctuated anywhere from $2.25 per gallon to as high as $2.92 per gallon, according to historical data from GasBuddy.

“There’s a lot of mechanics that go into it,” DeHaan said. “But, gas prices don’t go up because of a holiday weekend.”

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The higher than usual number of drivers on the road will likely lead to congestion on Ohio highways, especially throughout the lower portion of the state as travelers flock to southern beaches and coastal areas, Antrican said. Roads will likely be packed on the afternoons and evenings of both Friday and Monday, according to AAA.

The worst time to travel during the long weekend depends on the day, 2017 data from the traffic smart phone app Waze shows. Roads will likely be packed from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday while there will be more drivers out from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Monday and Tuesday, according to Waze.

With more people on the road drivers will need to pay close attention to the flow of traffic, Antrican said. AAA responded to more than 14,000 calls in Ohio during Memorial Day weekend in 2018 and Antrican said she expects that number to climb to 15,000 this year.

AAA offers apps and a website for drivers to use to help find hospitals during a roadside emergency, navigate through construction zones and highway backups. If all else fails, Antrican said it’s good to be prepared by having water bottles, snacks and a paper map handy.

“Be patient, be kind,” Antrican said. “When you’re traveling for a holiday, many things are out of your control. The only thing that you can control is how you respond.”

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