Travelers planning to get away for some rest and relaxation for the Memorial Day holiday may instead find some frustrations thanks to heavy traffic and high pump prices expected at the beginning of the nation’s 2017 vacation season.
Although gas prices are expected to be higher than a year ago, AAA still projects 39.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home this Memorial Day weekend – the highest Memorial Day travel volume since 2005.
“The expected spike in Memorial Day travel mirrors the positive growth seen throughout the travel industry this year,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president, Travel and Publishing. “Higher confidence has led to more consumer spending, and many Americans are choosing to allocate their extra money on travel this Memorial Day.”
Altogether, AAA expects one million more travelers than last year taking to the roads, air, rails and water this Memorial Day weekend, which is defined as the holiday travel period beginning Thursday, May 25, and last through Monday, May 29. While AAA expects most U.S. drivers will pay the highest Memorial Day gas prices since 2015, the vast majority of holiday travelers (88.1%) are still planning to hit the road. Automobile travel will grow by 2.4% this Memorial Day, with 34.6 million Americans planning a holiday road trip. The national average price for a gallon of gas today is $2.34, 11 cents more than last year.
In Arkansas, gas prices are 24 cents cheaper than the rest of the nation, averaging $2.10 for a gallon of regular unleaded. Pump prices are cheapest in Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas, where motorist there are paying a $2 and $2.06 per gallon to, respectively, to fill up their tanks. Pine Bluff has the state’s highest gas prices at $2.15 per gallon for regular unleaded. Motorists in Texarkana and central Arkansas are paying on average about $2.09 and $2.10 per gallon, respectively. Drivers who prefer to fill up with premium gas will see average prices around $2.62 per gallon. Truck drivers and other diesel fuel users are paying about $2.33 per gallon, which is 28 cents higher than a year ago.
Despite the higher pump prices, Gasbuddy.com is showing a number of convenience store operators and gas stations across the state posting prices at well below $2 a gallon. For instance, several retailers near the Arkansas-Oklahoma border in Fort Smith and Siloam Springs are selling gasoline as low as $1.87 per gallon for regular unleaded.
Air travel is expected to increase 5.5% percent over last year, with 2.9 million Americans taking to the skies this Memorial Day. Travel by other modes of transportation, including cruises, trains and buses, will increase 2.9%, to 1.75 million travelers.
AAA predicts that Chicago, Los Angeles and New York will be the busiest metro areas this Memorial Day weekend, based on last year’s accident and traffic jam data. For travelers visiting or driving through these cities, high traffic volumes are expected on Thursday and Friday. For example, New York City sees an average 27% spike in accident alerts on these two days.
In Arkansas, several state highways in counties that were affected by the recent flooding have been closed due to high waters. For example, parts of State Highway 37 in Jackson and Independence counties have been closed since late April due to high flood waters.
In addition, ongoing highway construction by the state Highway and Transportation Department shows there are more than two dozen active lane closures and width restriction along major routes and highways in Arkansas because of construction or maintenance related activities. Traffic on heavily-traveled Interstates 30 and 40 and U.S. 412 are likely to experience congestion during the holiday due to construction and lane closures, according to the AHTD travel conditions map.
Recent economic reports show that the hospitality and tourism industry in Arkansas and across the nation is booming. Recent U.S. Labor Department data shows that 55,000 jobs were added in the leisure and hospitality sector as the travel industry prepares for the run-up to the U.S. vacation season.
In Arkansas, the state’s unemployment rate fell to an all-time low in March at 3.6% as the civilian labor pool added 4,428 new positions. Of that tally, the leisure and hospitality sector added 500 jobs year-over-year and now totals 115,900 workers, compared to 115,400 a year ago.