Pandemic expected to stunt holiday travel in Ohio

UPDATED Nov. 17, 2018 AAA predicts that 50.9 million Americans will travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, a 3.3 percent increase over 2016 and the most since 2005.
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UPDATED Nov. 17, 2018 AAA predicts that 50.9 million Americans will travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, a 3.3 percent increase over 2016 and the most since 2005.

Highway and airport traffic will lighter this week as fewer Ohioans are expected to travel for Thanksgiving due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Based on a survey performed by AAA, almost 85% of Ohioans said they are choosing not to travel for Thanksgiving and 40% said the dangers of COVID-19 was to blame.

“The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “The decision to travel is a personal one. For those who are considering making a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure.”

More than half of those surveyed said that COVID was a travel risk and 34% saw it as a significant risk. AAA spokeswoman Cindy Antrican said finances could also play a role in their ability to travel this year.

Those that choose to travel are encouraged to avoid 14 states and those entering Ohio from states with positive rating of 15% or more for COVID-19 are advised to self quarantine.

The list includes Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin. South Dakota had the highest positivity rate at 56.3 percent. Minnesota and Oklahoma both held the lowest, at 15 percent.

AAA predicted 10% or about 5.5 million less people nationally to hit the road for the holiday compared to 2019, based on October financial data. The downturn will end an 11-year travel volume increase.

Antrican said she predicts even less people will make trips this year than what was previously predicted due to the pandemic. “As you know a lot has happened since the 1st of October, …it was based in a time period that is vastly different than where we are today,” she said.

AAA anticipates 50.6 million travelers this holiday season with the bulk of those deciding to travel to do so by car rather than flying. Only 2.4 million or 4.7% of travelers are forecasted to catch a flight in or out of town for the holiday, a 47.5% drop from last year.

In Ohio, 83% of travelers will do so by car which is the only source of travel to see a national increase this year. “It’s almost always road trips because of the distance they’re travelling. Think about where people normally go, they’re travelling to see family,” said Antrican.

Ohio Department of Transportation press secretary Matt Bruning said that it appears most people want to stay close to home and celebrate with their immediate family or small group setting which could be the reason for less people traveling this year.

However, he still anticipates some traffic increases for Thanksgiving.

“I would expect that you will still see some measure of an increase in traffic on the roads Wednesday through Sunday. Traditionally Wednesday is the big travel day and Sunday is the big return day.” Bruning said.

ODOT plans to remove orange construction barrels and barricades that could further impede the flow of heavy holiday traffic to allow more lanes of travel.

Both Antrican and Bruning suggest travelers to plan ahead to be more prepared for travel.

“I think we’re starting to see situations where restaurants are closing down because they don’t have enough staff because people are getting sick. I would encourage people to pack food if you’re going to be going to on the road for several hours, you want to make sure you pack food and bottles of water,” said Antrican.

The Brent Spence Bridge, the main crossing from Ohio to Kentucky in Cincinnati, will be closed this week following heavy damage from a semi-trailer crash two weeks ago. The bridge is expected to closed until Dec. 23, highway officials have said.

Those driving for Thanksgiving events can take advantage of low gas prices, the lowest since 2016, according to GasBuddy.com, which analyses gas prices nationally.. The national average for gas this year is projected to be $2.17, down from $2.60 in 2019.

“Gasoline demand has continued to struggle as the coronavirus has kept Americans in their homes and keys out of their cars, working and e-learning from home. But with positive outcomes from two vaccine trials, we’re beginning to see optimism return, leading prices to rise slightly just in time for Thanksgiving,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy in a release.