Arkansas and U.S. highways will likely see higher traffic volumes during the Thanksgiving Day weekend, which could possibly lead to a more fatalities and distracted motorists as nearly 51 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles to their destination, AAA says.
Pump prices in Arkansas and most parts of the U.S. will be substantially higher than a year ago as many families prepare to hit the highways on Wednesday and Thursday morning to make the annual trek to grandma’s house, or other Thanksgiving Day havens for the annual autumn feast.
“Thanksgiving kicks off the start of a busy holiday season, and more thankful Americans will travel to spend time with friends and family this year,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president of travel and publishing. “A strong economy and labor market are generating rising incomes and higher consumer confidence, fueling a strong year for the travel industry, which will continue into the holiday season.”
The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 22 to Sunday, Nov. 26. The 2017 holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005 with 1.6 million, or 3.3% more people taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways compared with last year.
AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, and Kirkland, Wash.-based INRIX, a global transportation analytics firm, also predict travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. during the holiday week could be as much as three times longer than the normal trip.
Expected traffic jam have caused state highway officials to remind motorists of the extra need to be careful and watch for highway construction, drunk drivers and the increasing number of distracted motorists using smart devices. To help motorists find ways around accidents and work zone backups, Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) officials have posted an “alternate route” feature on IDriveArkansas.com, which displays links between the interstate corridors and secondary routes that motorists may consider when travel is delayed.
For example, ArDOT officials said Friday ongoing construction on I-30 in South Arkansas is expected to delay westbound travel flow for three miles in Miller and Hempstead counties near the Fulton area. In the Little Rock area near mile markers 6-11 on I-440, there will be 24-hour construction in both directions for nearly five miles.
In rural Arkansas, there will also be 24-hour construction on U.S. 67 in Randolph County near Pocahontas that will affect northbound traffic. In Logan County near Paris, there will be a half-mile of construction on Arkansas Highway 309 that will impede northbound traffic flow.
Although traffic ties-up may be the biggest frustration during the long Thanksgiving Day weekend, AAA expects most U.S. drivers will pay the highest pump prices for the holiday since 2014. At $2.54, today’s national gas price average is two cents less than one week ago and 40 cents more than a year ago.
ARKANSAS AVERAGE PUMP PRICES
Arkansas is among the nation’s top 10 states with the least expensive gas prices at $2.29 per gallon. The other least expensive states include: Alabama ($2.25), Mississippi ($2.26), South Carolina ($2.27), Texas ($2.28), Oklahoma ($2.31), Virginia ($2.31), Tennessee ($2.31), Louisiana ($2.33) and Missouri ($2.35).
The West Coast continues to sell the most expensive gas with Alaska $3.27 leading the region and topping all states’ gas prices. Hawaii ($3.23) and Arizona ($2.40) saw a slight increase, albeit one cent on the week. California ($3.21) is down three cents on the week and Nevada ($2.73) is down one cent. Oregon ($2.85) and Washington ($3.00) saw no change on the week.
Gas prices are volatile in the Great Lakes and Central states. With a double-digit decrease, Michigan has the country and the region’s largest decline at 12 cents. Also making the national spotlight for the region, Illinois ($2.70) lands on this week’s top 10 states with the most expensive gas in the country.
On Thursday, the Keystone pipeline was shut down due to a spill at a section of the pipeline in Marshall County, S.D. TransCanada said it does not yet have a potential restart date for the pipeline, which runs from Hardisty, Alberta, to Cushing, Okla., and on to Wood River/Patoka, Ill.
Crude oil deliveries to some Midwestern refineries that draw from the pipeline may be reduced. In addition, crude inventory levels at Cushing, Oklahoma, may drop due to the delivery disruption.
“The impact to gas prices in the Midwest will be based on the length of time the pipeline is down,” said AAA spokesperson Jeannette Casselano.
In Arkansas, pump prices are down one cents from a week ago and 38 cents above year ago levels. Hot Springs and Little Rock metropolitan area have the lowest prices at $2.21 and $2.26 per gallon, respectively, while drivers in West Memphis and Pine Bluff are paying the highest fuel costs at $2.31 and $2.33 to fill up with regular unleaded.
In other areas of the state, prices for a gallon of regular unleaded are also well below the national average in Jonesboro ($2.27) Fort Smith ($2.28), Northwest Arkansas ($2.28) and Texarkana ($2.30). Motorists using diesel fuel are seeing averages at $2.61 per gallon, while premium pump prices average about $2.80 per gallon across the state.
MORE FATALITIES ESTIMATED
The National Safety Council estimates 421 people may be killed and another 48,500 may be seriously injured in car crashes during the upcoming Thanksgiving Day holiday period. That estimate is 7% higher than the average number of deaths – 393 – for that weekend.
NSC officials said historical trends show that on average, more than one-third of Thanksgiving Day holiday period fatalities involve alcohol-impaired drivers. Since the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is known for its high volumes of both travel and alcohol consumption, the Council is warning drivers to be particularly vigilant at the start of the holiday period.
“While many of us are putting together grocery lists and travel plans for Thanksgiving, we can’t forget that long holiday weekends are particularly deadly on the roads,” said Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “If you plan to celebrate, make smart decisions and commit to having a driver that is not impaired by alcohol or drugs behind the wheel. This Thanksgiving, let’s ensure everyone in every family arrives home safely.”
The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) has also put out a warning for motorists to avoid driving while texting and to be alert for other drivers who may be distracted while using their smartphones. NSC officials also said distracted driving will also be a major cause of parking lot accidents at jammed shopping venues on Black Friday. A poll conducted last year found two-thirds of would make phone calls while driving through a parking lot and 56% would text.