Millions Hitting the Road

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Greenwood said the St. Clairsville post is operating at a “100 percent level of manpower” this Memorial Day weekend, with all available personnel working 10- to 12-hour shifts.

The goal is to be visible in an effort to keep the traveling public safe. A total of 13 troopers will be on the road, as will four sergeants and the post lieutenant.

“This started (Thursday) night at midnight and will continue through midnight Monday,” he said. “If you’re going out to drink, don’t be driving. Slow down and wear your seat belt. There is zero tolerance for not wearing a seat belt, and you will be cited” if you don’t wear one.

Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler added that his department will have “a normal presence” over the weekend, though deputies normally assigned to courts will be out patrolling the roads Monday.

“Buckle up and don’t speed,” he advised. “Leave in plenty of time. If you are drinking alcohol, get a designated driver.”

Overall, the forecast for summer travel could be classified as “partly sunny.”

Airlines, hotels and campgrounds are commanding higher rates and seeing more customers than a few summers ago, and luxury hotels are selling out. Local businessmen and state officials are optimistic. But for a travel industry still stinging from the recession, the best it can likely hope for is another summer of steady, but slow, recovery. The blockbuster crowds seen in 2007 have become a distant memory.

Americans’ plans for summer travel mirror the current state of the economy. Rising home prices and a soaring stock market are encouraging those at the top of the income ladder to take more lavish trips. But large segments of the population are staying close to home because wages are stagnant, rents are high and the end of the payroll tax holiday has shrunk their take-home pay.

That’s why AAA isn’t expecting a resounding start to summer this Memorial Day weekend. Citing the “up and down economy,” AAA expects 31.2 million Americans to hit the road this weekend, virtually the same number as last year. Throw in planes, trains and buses, and the number of travelers will drop about 1 percent, AAA says.

As vacationers set out this summer, here’s what they can expect:

– Gas prices about the same as last year. The national average price of gasoline was $3.66 a gallon Thursday, 2 cents higher than during last year’s Memorial Day weekend. Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at, expects prices to drift lower after the holiday and fall close to last summer’s low of $3.33 per gallon before hurricane season starts to drag them up again.

– More expensive hotel rooms. The average hotel will cost $112.21, before taxes and any other add-on such as resort fees. That’s up 4.4 percent from last year’s $107.52, according to hotel research firm STR. Hotels are also expected to be slightly fuller, with occupancy rates climbing from 69.3 percent last summer to 70 percent this year.

– Packed planes, steady airfare. Airlines for America, the industry’s lobby group, expects 208.7 million people to fly, up 1 percent from last year. About 87 percent of airplane seats will be filled with paying passengers. Domestic fliers will pay $421 on average for a round trip ticket, down $6 from last summer. International fliers will pay $1,087, up $8, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp.

– Amtrak expects to meet or exceed the 8.3 million passengers it carried last summer. But the taxpayer-backed railroad wouldn’t disclose how fares compare with last summer’s average one-way ticket of $66.39.