Many gear up for holiday road trip

Many Americans aren't going to let a little thing like a few more pennies to the gallon get in the way of what has become a traditional part of the nation's summer culture -- the holiday road trip.

OK, so the price of gas is close to a buck more a gallon right now than it was this time last year, and that will cause an estimated 1 million people more than last year to opt for staycations this holiday.

But for about 39 million others, it's the Fourth of July, darn it, and grandma's homemade apple pie is waiting somewhere out there in the sweet land of liberty.

That's about the number of people AAA expects to load the kids into the family wagon and hit the road for at least a 50-mile trip this weekend.

That's about 2.5 percent fewer than climbed into their cars for Independence Day weekend last year, and AAA officials said that's probably because of prices averaging about $3.54 per gallon nationwide on Wednesday compared to about $2.75 this time last year.

The Tri-City average was $3.82 per gallon on Wednesday, up 78 cents from last July, AAA reported. But it's 5 cents less than what local drivers paid last week.

Tri-Citians buying premium gas Wednesday were paying $4.03 per gallon. Diesel users were paying $4.18, AAA said.

The number of people driving out of town is expected to exceed the number who traveled for Memorial Day weekend.

But that could be because children are out of school and families have more flexibility, said Julie Harrington, chief operating officer for Travel Leaders, a travel agency with Mid-Columbia offices.

The July 4 weekend is the most popular for travel, with top destinations including Hawaii, Disneyland and Disney World, Harrington said.

And even though fewer people are planning to drive, air travel looks to be soaring this holiday.

AAA estimates about 3 million leisure travelers will hit the skies this weekend -- about 9 percent more passengers than the 2.8 million who flew last July 4.

Harrington said air travel in general has been up this summer, and she doesn't think fuel prices are a factor.

"I just think that consumer confidence is building and people are wanting to have family vacations," she said.

For those staying in town, summer weather finally is set to arrive with expected highs of 87 on Saturday, 91 on Sunday and 92 on Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Meteorologist Douglas Weber said temperatures then are expected to climb gradually over the week.

"We are approaching the possibility of the 100-degree mark," he said.

Last year's Independence Day weekend brought highs of 75 on Friday, July 2; 78 on Saturday, July 3; and 84 on the Sunday holiday itself.

This weekend's warm temperatures should be accompanied by mostly clear skies with a slight breeze, Weber said.

"It's going to be nice and easy to see fireworks," he said.

But with the heat, people need to be extra careful with fireworks to avoid causing grass fires, Weber added.

Drivers headed out of town should expect congestion and delays on Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass, Highway 2 over Stevens Pass, Interstate 5 near the Canadian border and I-5 between Olympia and Tacoma, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Most construction projects on state highways are expected to move off of highways starting noon Friday, according to WSDOT.

But drivers still should expect shifted lanes, roadway detours and reduced speed zones in places.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com