Low gas prices mean Memorial Day weekend travel plans for many


PITTSFIELD — State gas prices bottomed out in early February, but they've been rising slowly and steadily since then.

This week, the state's average price for a gallon of self-serve regular unleaded rose eight cents to $2.25, according to AAA Northeast.

But that price is still 41 cents lower than it was at this time last year, which means that plenty of motorists are still expected to hit the road to either the Berkshires or beyond over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Gas prices in Massachusetts are the lowest they've been for Memorial Day weekend in 11 years.

Some 844,000 state residents — more than the populations of Boston and Worcester combined — are expected to travel over the holiday weekend, including 786,000 by motor vehicle, according to AAA.

Regionally, 1.7 million New Englanders are expected to travel, more than 1.5 million by car.

Nationally, AAA predicts 38 million Americans will be on the move over the Memorial Day travel period, which AAA defines as Thursday through Monday. That's the second-highest Memorial Day travel volume on record, and the most since 2005.

Due to this year's lower gas prices, nearly 34 million of those national travelers, or 89 percent, are expected to drive, an increase of 2.1 percent from last year.

"Americans are eagerly awaiting the start of summer and are ready to travel in numbers not seen in a decade," said Lloyd Albert, AAA Northeast's senior vice president of public and government affairs. "The great American road trip is officially back thanks to low gas prices."

The number of people that are coming to the Berkshires this weekend is harder to predict. The Berkshire Visitors Bureau doesn't keep exact numbers, according to Executive Director Lori Klefos, although she believes the state as a whole is expecting a 3 percent increase in guests.

Speaking anecdotally, Klefos said the Berkshires should have plenty of visitors because Memorial Day has passed Independence Day as the official start of the Berkshire summer tourist season.

"That means a lot of business for us," said Klefos, who also is a member of the state advisory commission on travel and tourism. "It's happened over the last 10 to 15 years. There's a lot of events going on .... All of the places really open up their summer programming."

Another plus this weekend will be the weather. Although the National Weather Service has predicted a 30 to 40 percent chance of either showers or thunderstorms in the Berkshires for each of the holiday weekend's four days, daytime temperatures are expected to be in the 80s.

A southerly flow is expected to bring warmer air to the region over the weekend with temperatures that "may be a little more humid," said meteorologist Brian Frugis of the National Weather Service bureau in Albany, N.Y.

"It definitely looks like above normal temperatures," he said. "There are threats of showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening hours, but they won't be everywhere and it won't be raining the whole time."

For motorists, holiday weekend traffic is expected to be the heaviest in Massachusetts on Thursday, Friday and Monday afternoons and during the early evenings, with peak traffic volumes occurring between 1 and 7 p.m., according to MassDOT. Boston is ranked seventh among the top 10 national travel destinations for this weekend by AAA.

On state highways, especially heavy traffic is expected Friday on the Mass Pike at the I-84 interchange at Exit 9 in Sturbridge, and at Exit 11A, I-495 for those driving either south to Cape Cod or north to New Hampshire and Maine. However, MassDOT has suspended all construction work on major arterial roadways from noon Friday to the start of normal business on Tuesday. For those heading to the Cape, there will be no lane restrictions on the Sagamore Bridge today through Monday.

AAA is expected to rescue more than 350,000 motorists during the holiday weekend mostly due to dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires.

"I think it makes sense to get your car in good shape for summer and now is a good time to do that," said AAA Northeast spokeswoman Mary Maguire. "As the weather gets a little warmer, do a check of your battery. A lot of people don't realize that not only the extreme temperature of winter but the extreme heat drains battery power. Batteries don't like extreme weather."

Motorists should also check their tires, "look for cracks and bubbles," Maguire said, and make sure that they are properly inflated.

"They perform better and will (give vehicles) 3 to 4 percent greater fuel efficiency," she said.

Drivers should also check their vehicle's antifreeze levels, and belts and hoses, and replace windshield wipers following the winter weather.

"We advise fluid checks," Maguire said. "Make sure the power steering and brake fluid are in good working order."

Carrying a cellphone charger is also a plus.

"This is very important because a lot of kids are heading home from college right now, and they're driving older cars that have been passed down within the family," Maguire said.

AAA also has a mobile app that allows motorists to map a route, find the lowest gas prices, make travel arrangements, request AAA roadside assistance, and find AAA approved auto repair facilities.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.

On the web ...

For more information, visit AAA.com/mobile.


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