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More expected to drive for holiday travel

| Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 11:56 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Daniel Niccolai a lube tech at Jiffy Lube in Wexford works on a car on Saturday afternoon, November 17, 2012. This year it's expected that more people will be be traveling for the Thanksgiving Day holiday. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

Lindsay Tomasic has a special place in her heart for Mount Airy, N.C., where her mother's family lives.

“That's my favorite place to go in the whole world,” said Tomasic, 18, of Ohio Township.

Tomasic was at a Jiffy Lube in Pine on Saturday morning getting a state inspection and emissions test for her mother's Jeep in preparation for their trip to Mount Airy on the day after Thanksgiving.

The Tomasics will be among 43.6 million Americans who AAA estimates will travel at least 50 miles from home during the five-day Thanksgiving travel period. That's up from 43.3 million for Thanksgiving 2011.

AAA projects 39.1 million travelers will drive this year, compared with 38.9 million in 2011.

Tight budgets and declines in airline seat availability and automobile gasoline prices will help spur more people to hit the road, experts said. The busiest travel days will be Wednesday and Sunday.

“Thanksgiving is typically a very family-focused holiday, so people want to spend time around the table with family,” said Ruth Nagy, managing director of travel operations for AAA's East Central Office in East Liberty.

AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and traveler surveys conducted by IHS Global Insight, a research company based in Englewood, Colo.

Nationwide, gasoline is expected to average between $3.25 and $3.40 a gallon, Nagy said. As of Saturday, the national average price for regular gas was $3.422 per gallon, and the Pittsburgh area's price was $3.659, according to AAA's website.

Fewer people will fly — 3.14 million versus 3.2 million last year — because fewer seats will be available and the cost for a family to travel together can be prohibitive, Nagy said.

Passenger traffic at Pittsburgh International Airport is expected to decline by 3 to 4 percent because of fewer departing flights, spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said.

Airlines for America, a Washington-based trade organization for airlines, projects an increase of 150,000 fliers nationwide, but its forecast covers a 12-day period starting Nov. 16. It expects nearly 24 million people will travel by plane.

It's unknown how the damage caused by superstorm Sandy two weeks ago will affect travel, but drivers should check the availability of routes before getting on the roads, Nagy said.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission expects the number of drivers on the turnpike this year will be about the same as last year's 2.6 million, spokesman Carl DeFebo Jr. said.

For Southwestern Pennsylvania, the three busiest toll plazas will be the Pittsburgh interchange, where 92,000 vehicles will exit the turnpike; Warrendale with 83,000 vehicles; and the Gateway Barrier to the Ohio Turnpike with 81,000 vehicles, he said.

“In addition, the stretch of toll road between New Stanton to Breezewood is expected to be especially congested with heavy volumes and possible delays on Sunday afternoon and early evening as folks are returning home and traveling to other destinations, including deer-hunting camp,” DeFebo said.

Discount bus company Megabus.com, for which Pittsburgh is one of seven hubs, expects ridership to increase by double digits over the number last year, spokesman Mike Alvich said. He declined to disclose specifics.

Last year, Megabus.com said it expected a 28 percent increase in riders in its Northeast and Midwest system compared with Thanksgiving travel in 2010, and a 70 percent increase over typical Wednesday-Thursday ridership.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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