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Memorial Day travel: Expect slow traffic, high prices, good weather

Millions are expected to be on the road this Memorial Day weekend where traffic will be slow and gas prices high, but good weather is projected.

Nearly 37 million travelers nationwide and 733,397 in Ohio will hit the road for the holiday weekend, according to AAA, and most will see gas prices around $3 a gallon.

Memorial Day weekend is considered the beginning of the summer travel season and experts don’t expect the high gas prices projected to effect summer vacation plans.

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“When you look at the overall vacation budget, fuel is a relatively small portion of that travel budget,” said Kimberly Schwind, AAA Ohio spokeswoman. “They’ll still pay it because they want to get out for their vacation.”

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Nationwide, a gallon of gas is now hovering around $3, the highest since Memorial Day weekend in 2014, according to travel organization AAA.

U.S. oil prices crashed went above the $70-a-barrel mark last week for the first time since late 2014, foreshadowing costlier gasoline and consumer goods.

The hike comes after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. will withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal and reinforce economic sanctions. And Venezuela, which holds most of the world’s oil reserves, is in turmoil with a dwindling supply.

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“It’s a little bit of a tough one this summer because of all the geopolitical noise,” said GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHann. “My crystal ball gets a little foggy with all this noise.”

Prices were at or above $3 in parts of the region on Thursday, with the statewide average at $2.89.

People traveling Interstate 75 on Thursday were mixed on whether the run-up in the price of fuel will change travel plans.

Mike Michum of Riverside said higher gas probably won’t affect his summer.

“It’s not that much of an impact,” he said.

But Patricia Dunkin of Detroit, Mich., who was traveling through Dayton, said she thinks a lot of people will change their minds about travel due to gas costs. The national average for gas is up 16.1 cents per gallon in the last month, according to GasBuddy.

“After filling up for $50 or $60 more than a couple times, a lot of people will rethink their plans,” Dunkin said.

Ohio roadways typically see a 16 percent increase in traffic for the Memorial Day holiday, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

“The biggest thing is to pack your patience, especially if you’re going to be traveling during those peak travel times,” Schwind said.“Travel at other times during the day if you want to avoid traffic.”

During high-travel holidays, ODOT said it works with its contractors to reduce the size of work zones and open as many lanes of travel as possible. With a $2.3 billion investment into Ohio’s roads and bridges this year, it’s likely that travelers will encounter orange barrels, ODOT said in a release.

The biggest work zones are on Interstate 71 and I-270 in Columbus, Interstate 75 in Cincinnati, Findlay and Toledo, I-271 in Cleveland, and I-76 in Akron.

In 2017, there were 14 fatalities on Ohio highways over the holiday weekend., down from 15 in 2016.

ODOT is also partnering with the Ohio Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies to remind drivers to buckle up this weekend. So far in 2018, 116 people have been killed in crashes where they were not wearing a seat belt.

The worst traffic congestion is likely in the late afternoon on Friday, as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers, according to AAA.

“Our advice to drivers is to avoid peak commute times in major cities altogether — traveling late morning or early afternoon — or plan alternative routes,” AAA said in a statement.

Temperatures will be high over the weekend with pop-up thunderstorms expected, according to StormCenter7 Chief Meteorologist Eric Elwell.

“On Memorial Day, we can expect it to be partly cloudy and humid with a continued chance of mainly afternoon/evening pop-up storms. High swill be in the upper 80s,” Elwell said.

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