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Millions to get their motor runnin' for holiday weekend

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 10:48 p.m.

More than 41 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more during Independence Day weekend, a nearly 2 percent increase over last year, AAA officials said.

Mike Murray, of Los Angeles, is one of them. He and his family flew into Pittsburgh to visit his wife's family this week and will be heading to Ripley, N.Y., on the shores of Lake Erie for the weekend.

“We'll just enjoy the time we're here,” said Murray, 55, who noted his family doesn't typically travel for the holiday weekend.

Last year, about 40.3 million traveled during the July 4 holiday. Nearly eight in 10 travelers will travel by automobile, the highest level since 2007, AAA officials said. Air traffic is expected to increase 1 percent to 3.1 million travelers.

“The Fourth of July holiday is typically the busiest summer travel holiday with 5 million more Americans traveling compared to the Memorial Day weekend,” said AAA East Central President Jim Lehman.

Still, most Americans, such as Adam Locke of Bridgeville won't venture that far. He's going to the Big Butler Fair on Friday.

“My friend mentioned that this is the place to go and I guess there's some fireworks after, which are a staple for the Fourth,” Locke, 39, said. “You got to see some fireworks.”

Many drivers in Pennsylvania will use the turnpike as families head to the coast for vacation. The turnpike estimates that 2.7 million vehicles will use the toll road during the weekend, up from 2.5 million last year. Maintenance crews prepared for the traffic by opening all available lanes through 6 a.m. July 7. As the holiday surge approaches, so will state police patrols.

“Texting while driving and aggressive driving will not be tolerated, so motorists should expect to see our troopers out there in full force,” said Capt. Gregory Bacher, whose unit is in charge of turnpike patrols.

DUI patrols also will ramp up. Last year, there were 256 alcohol-related crashes resulting in 11 fatalities from June 30 to July 9. That marked a decrease from 2012, when there were 355 alcohol-related crashes and 20 fatalities, PennDOT officials said.

Gas won't be cheap. Prices rose about 3 cents this week for an average Western Pennsylvania price of $3.86 per gallon, AAA reported. That's up from an average of $3.51 for the holiday last year. The national average is $3.67 per gallon. Compared with previous Independence Day holidays, the national average is the highest since 2008.

Staff writer Megan Henney contributed to this report. Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik tribweb.com.

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