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Many expect to hit the road this weekend

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 11:19 p.m.

More than 34.1 million Americans are expected to travel over the Labor Day weekend, including more than 4.7 million in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey — the first time this year that there's been a year-over-year increase in holiday travel, officials said.

AAA and IHS Global Insight forecast that more travelers than last year will go at least 50 miles from home during the holiday weekend, emboldened by increased consumer confidence and lower gas prices. The number of Labor Day vacationers is expected to go up 4.2 percent compared to last year, unlike Memorial Day or Independence Day when the number of travelers remained stagnant or decreased slightly, said Bevi Powell, vice president of AAA East Central.

“Perhaps people were postponing their vacations earlier this summer, waiting to see what the economy would be like,” Powell said.

Gas prices were lower than last year, with the average in the Pittsburgh region at $3.62 per gallon this week compared to $3.77 a gallon during the same week in 2012. The cost of gas doesn't usually dissuade people from traveling if they've already made plans, but it can leave them with less to spend on food, gifts and accommodations, Powell said.

Locally, iffy weather and a few long-term road closures could create some bottlenecks worth escaping.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Moon predict a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday with temperatures in the mid-80s, dipping to the low 80s on Monday but with a 40 to 45 percent chance of rain.

“It could create slick road conditions in heavy thunderstorms or cause traffic backups, especially on the interstates,” meteorologist Rihaan Gangat said on Wednesday. “We're not expecting any flooding issues just yet; it's too early to tell.”

Pittsburgh International Airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said scattered storms aren't usually enough to delay flights, but she urged air travelers to allow extra time for crowds at security checkpoints and to pack smart to get through faster.

Pennsylvania Turnpike officials are preparing for an increase in travelers, with an estimated 2.7 million vehicles expected on the turnpike from Friday through Monday. To accommodate the traffic, all construction work will halt from 3 p.m. Thursday through 6 a.m. Tuesday so at least two lanes of travel will be open along the entire length of the highway.

PennDOT is suspending construction work for the weekend, though its contractors will stay on the job until Friday afternoon, and a few long-term lane restrictions or closures will remain in place around the region.

Steve Cowan, spokesman for the district covering Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, said construction work at the Liberty and Squirrel Hill tunnels will stop during the weekend, but there will be closures of all northbound lanes on West Carson Street between the West End Circle and McKees Rocks, and one northbound lane of Route 28 between Pittsburgh and the 40th Street Bridge.

In Butler County, northbound Interstate 79 traffic is being diverted to share the southbound lanes at the Route 422 interchange near Portersville. Drivers should allow extra time and expect delays, said PennDOT spokeswoman Deborah Casadei.

There will be lane closures and a 12-foot width restriction on Interstate 80 between the Emlenton and Clarion interchanges in Clarion County, and westbound traffic on I-80 is being transferred to the eastbound side, with one lane open in either direction, between the Reynoldsville and Falls Creek exits in Jefferson County.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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