WHEELING - Today marks the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday travel period and police expect to see an increase in traffic on the roadways, as well as at local saloons.
In addition to being a hectic travel day, Thanksgiving eve is widely regarded as the busiest night of the year for bars, according to officers. Today marks the unofficial start of the holiday season, and many will enjoy a four-day weekend.
Wheeling Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball acknowledged tonight's reputation, saying he expects local bars to be bustling more tonight than they will be on New Year's Eve.
Traffic is bumper to bumper on Interstate 395 before the Thanksgiving holiday on Tuesday in Alexandria, Va.
"Everybody's home for the holidays and everybody wants to go out and have a few drinks, reacquaint and hash out old times," Kimball said.
Wheeling police are using a grant from the Governor's Highway Safety Program to cover the overtime wages of officers working an increased patrol that began earlier this week and will run through Sunday. Those extra patrols will be primarily dedicated to Interstates 470 and 70, as well as W.Va. 2, Kimball said.
"There's always people who choose to go out and drink on" Thanksgiving eve, Kimball noted, "and driving is the biggest mistake they could ever make; that could have tragic consequences for them or another person."
Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler was quick to mention the celebratory atmosphere of this evening, as well, citing a local bar that he said will have patrons lined up at the entrance, waiting to join the brimming crowd inside.
Butler said his department will have its standard number of deputies monitoring county roads today and this evening. He pointed out that speeding will not drastically reduce travel time, but it will greatly increase a vehicle's stopping distance and accident potential.
Motorists should move into the left lane, or at least slow down, when passing officers who have other drivers pulled over on the road's shoulder, Butler added.
According to AAA, 43.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an increase of 0.7 percent over the 43.3 million people who traveled last year. Approximately 90 percent of those travelers, or 39.1 million people, plan to travel by automobile.
Brooke County Sheriff Richard Ferguson said his deputies are prepared to patrol the increased roadway traffic, primarily on W.Va. 27 and 88. He also advised his staff to look out for any motorists who may become stranded on the roadway.
For those who will be drinking, Ferguson offered the following: "Two key words: designated driver."