Pennsylvania roads may be a little wet after Wednesday’s rain, as remnants of Ida poured down on the East Coast.
But that probably won’t stop people from hitting the road for Labor Day weekend, traditionally seen as the unofficial end of summer and one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.
The American Automobile Association said there has been a steady increase in volume since stay-at-home orders were lifted last year and increased demand in travel has steadily pushed prices up. AAA said an expected increase in gas prices over the weekend are not expected to detour anyone’s travel plans.
The average price for gas in Pennsylvania price has held steady this past month, but was up a penny to $3.28 on Wednesday as remnants of Hurricane Ida made its presence felt throughout the state. The storm has left more than one million people in Louisiana and Mississippi without power as of Wednesday and likely taken about 13 percent of U.S. refining capacity offline, according to AAA. There were nine oil refineries in Ida’s path, and at least four oil refineries were believed to have shut down operations ahead of the storm, according to the association.
“Until the power is restored, it’s too early to know the full impact of any damage Ida caused on the oil and gas industry, but motorists regionally can expect price fluctuations leading into Labor Day weekend,” said Doni Lee Spiegel, a spokesperson for AAA. “Typically, a category 4 storm could mean three plus weeks before refineries are back to normal operations, while offshore production is more likely to resume this week.”
As of Wednesday, the average price nationally for gas was $3.17, according to AAA. In the Harrisburg area, the average price was $3.22.
To put that in perspective though, the average price of gas a year ago was around $2.50 in the Harrisburg area. Although, the $3.22 per gallon for regular gas is far lower than the regional record average of $4.03 on July 9, 2008.
If you’re traveling over the holiday weekend, you shouldn’t run into any road work. There is no construction work for the holiday weekend on major roads in the state, according to Fritzi Schreffler, PennDot spokesperson. PennDOT still encourages people to be cautious driving through work zones just because drivers will still see shifts in traffic patterns. Schreffler doesn’t believe any rest areas will be closed over the weekend.
On the Pennsylvania Turnpike, officials anticipate more than 2.7 million people will be using the turnpike between Sept. 2 and Sept. 7. This is a 5.6 percent decrease in holiday traffic during the same travel period in 2019.
The turnpike will suspend maintenance and construction work and have all available lanes open in each direction beginning 3 p.m. Thursday through 11 p.m. Monday.
All service plazas will be open, although customers may find limited concepts open at each plaza due to staffing problems.
If you haven’t been on the Turnpike in a while, you might notice one big change. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is now an all-electronic tolling system. If you don’t have E-ZPass, the turnpike will take a picture of your license plate. Customers that formerly used cash to pay their tolls will now receive a bill in the mail. Drive through the toll area but still abide the 15 mph speed limit.
Friday is expected be the heaviest day for traffic on the turnpike. AAA said that the peak travel time is expected when commuters head home and meet travelers on the congested corridors throughout Pennsylvania on Friday afternoon.
Harrisburg International Airport in Lower Swatara Township could see around 14,700 passengers in and out of the airport between Thursday and Monday, officials said. That’s about the same number of travelers as the airport saw over Memorial Day. And while Labor Day weekend is predicted to be 72 percent busier than last year, it is predicted to be only about 79 percent as busy as Labor Day 2019 – the airport’s busiest year ever.
So where are people flying to out of HIA?
Florida is still most popular – Orlando, Ft. Myers and the Tampa Bay/Sarasota region, according to Scott Miller, HIA spokesperson.
Six of the 15 direct flights out of HIA are in the Sunshine state.
Penn State’s opener on Saturday could help boost traffic in and out of HIA. The Nittany Lions open the season on the road against the Wisconsin Badgers.
“We could see some traffic to Madison for the Penn State game at Wisconsin on Saturday,” Miller said.
By Labor Day weekend, the weather in the Harrisburg area will likely take a 360 compared to Wednesday’s non-stop rain and it isn’t expected to be too hot either.
It is expected to be sunny with a high near 74 on Friday and sunny with a high near 77 on Saturday. Sunday, the Harrisburg area could see some rain showers after 2 p.m. and again before 8 p.m. On Labor Day, the high will be near 80.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers several recommendations regarding travel.
- The CDC recommends delaying travel until you are able to get fully vaccinated. If you are traveling with children who cannot get vaccinated at this time, follow recommendations for people who are not fully vaccinated.
- Wear a mask over your nose and mouth in public. Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Travelers are not required to wear a mask in outdoor areas of a conveyance (like on open deck areas of a ferry or the uncovered top deck of a bus).
- Avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from anyone who is not traveling with you.
- Wash hands often or use hand sanitizer.
- Children between the ages of 2 and 12 should wear a mask in public spaces and around people they don’t live with.
- Avoid crowds
- The safest way to travel right now is by taking short road trips with members of your household or fully vaccinated people with few stops along the way and advises against long-distance train or bus trip and traveling on a cruise ship or river boat.
- The safest place to stay is in a house or cabin with people from your household or fully vaccinated people
- Avoid sharing spaces with many people or sharing bathroom facilities (for example, a dormitory-style hostel).
- The safest way to eat when traveling is to bring your own food and drinks; get takeout or use drive-thru, delivery, and curbside pick-up options.
- Avoid eating inside restaurants that are poorly ventilated, where social distancing is not possible, servers and staff do not wear masks, and diners do not wear masks when not actively eating or drinking and at self-service options that require extensive touching of surfaces, such as buffets.
Tips from AAA
- Travel with all necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards.
- Plan your trip using AAA’s TripTik to identify if rest stops are open along your route. This varies state to state. Gas stations, which are essential businesses, may be your best option for restroom facilities.
- Consider that restaurants and fast food dining rooms may be closed, though drive-thru and carry-out or outside dining could be an option.
- Make sure your vehicle is road trip ready.
- Pack snacks, water and cleaning supplies – not only for the road trip, but to have on hand at your final destination. This will help to reduce the number of trips to stores.
- Find the best gas price by using the AAA app.
- Drivers should travel at times when normally awake; get rest before you hit the road; schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles; avoid heavy foods; travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving; and avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment
- If traveling locally, it’s suggested to avoid busy highways and interstates if possible. Adding a few miles to your trip could get you to your destination faster and safer.
- Understand the impact COVID-19 has on cities and states you are traveling through or to and if there are any restrictions in place.
- Driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike? Find the locations of service plazas as well as which restaurants and stores are open at the plaza. https://www.paturnpike.com/travel/service_plazas.aspx.
- You can find out information about the turnpike and can calculate the cost of the trip as well.
- For travel information, including AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions map, you can go to: TripTik.AAA.com.
- If you’re taking the train this weekend, you can find out relevant information from Amtrak.
- Flying HIA? Here’s the latest arrival and departure information.
- For the latest road conditions, crashes and construction in Pennsylvania, go to 511PA.com.
- And as always for the latest breaking news bookmark PennLive.com and visit regularly.