Holiday drivers may see snow in Washington passes

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldNovember 20, 2012 

Shane Anderson has seen a fair number of drivers come into his Pasco auto shop to have their cars inspected or snow tires put on ahead of the long Thanksgiving weekend.

But the volume hasn't been as high as years past -- at least not yet. Anderson, who owns Perfection Tire & Auto Repair on West Lewis Street, said the mild weather likely is a factor.

"Generally, when the snow falls is when the panic begins," he told the Herald on Monday.

"But we try to recommend coming in before that because there are (long) waits."

Drivers headed over mountain passes for Thanksgiving may want to get a jump on preparing their cars for winter. Snow and rain are possibilities for Snoqualmie and Stevens passes -- two of Washington's most heavily traveled routes in the days around the holiday.

They're bound to be busy this year.

Nationwide, 43.6 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home during the Thanksgiving weekend, according to AAA. That's a slight increase -- of 0.7 percent -- over last year.

About 39.1 million are expected to drive, AAA said.

Locally, gas prices are in better shape than last year at this time, averaging $3.65 per gallon for regular and $3.89 per gallon for premium, compared to $3.72 and $3.96 a year ago.

Air travel isn't expected to be as brisk as auto travel nationally, with AAA forecasting 3.14 million people will take plane trips over Thanksgiving, down from last year's 3.2 million.

The Tri-Cities Airport, however, is seeing a 3 percent bump in the number of people getting on planes this year compared to last year. An expansion of its long-term parking is expected to open today, in time for the traditionally busy Thanksgiving travel season at the Pasco airport.

During the peak last Thanksgiving, all but 23 of the airport's 1,100 long-term parking stalls were filled, said Ron Foraker, airport director.

The expansion adds 110 long-term stalls at the airport, with room for more in the future.

Foraker said Tri-Citians planning to fly to Thanksgiving festivities this year should leave wiggle room to make their flights.

"Since it is such a busy time of the year, we certainly ask people to allow themselves plenty of time to get to the airport, find a parking spot, get bags to the ticket counter and go through that process, and screening," he said.

"Because there are so many people traveling, that means lines. Get here early."

The same goes for road trippers. The Washington State Patrol recommends drivers leave time for delays and plan for winter conditions by packing gear such as scrapers and flashlights with batteries.

The state Department of Transportation keeps updates on traffic, mountain pass and weather conditions at www.wsdot.com. Most state highway construction work will pause over the holiday to cut down on traffic delays, although work on Highway 97 south of Toppenish at Satus Creek will continue, WSDOT said.

Tri-Citians who aren't planning trips for the holiday likely won't need to break out their snow gear, but they might need umbrellas. A high of around 48 degrees is forecast Thanksgiving Day. Rain could come Friday and into the weekend.

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