Gas prices see a holiday spike

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PITTSFIELD — Gas prices nationally could be be at their highest level on Thanksgiving in five years, according to some calculations, but that doesn't mean fewer state residents will be driving either to, from or through the Berkshires during this year's long holiday weekend.

More than 1.26 million Massachusetts residents are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home, with almost 1.1 million planning to drive — both records for the Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA. Nationally, 55 million are expected to travel over the holiday; 49.3 million by car — a 2.9 percent increase from last year — and the second highest total since AAA began tracking Thanksgiving travel in 2000.

Last week, GasBuddy predicted the national gas price on Thanksgiving would be $2.56 for a gallon of unleaded regular, a penny higher than last year. But on Monday, AAA listed this week's national average at $2.60 per gallon, two cents lower than last week, and three cents lower than at this time last year, according to that organization's figures.

In Massachusetts, the average gas price is slightly lower. The state price fell 2 cents last week to $2.49 per gallon, which was 10 cents below the national average, and remained at that level this week according to AAA Northeast.

"If all things stay in their current pattern, gas prices should stay where they are," said AAA Northeast spokesman Mark Schieldrop. "Generally, we don't see people change their travel plans much until prices reach that $3 threshold."

"For summer travel we did a poll and asked our readers or members if fuel prices affected their travel plans, and overwhelmingly people said no," he said.

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The average gas price in Rhode Island also remained at $2.49 a gallon this week, according to AAA. In Connecticut, the average gas price is $2.66 per gallon, six cents higher than the current national average, but six-100ths of a penny lower than last week, and 22 cents lower than at this time last year.

Berkshire residents who plan to drive should leave early. Wednesday afternoon is expected to be the worst travel day regionally, with late afternoon/early evening trips in both the Boston and New York metro areas projected to take almost 3 1/2 times longer than usual. In Boston, the worst travel time is expected to be between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, and in New York between 5:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., according to AAA.

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But motorists traveling through Massachusetts won't have to worry about construction delays — MassDOT shut down all scheduled construction activities on state highways Nov. 21, and they won't resume until 5 a.m. Dec. 2.

AAA does not issue a holiday traffic forecast specifically for Berkshire County or Western Massachusetts, but Schieldrop said, "with a lot of people planning to head out and with record travel numbers, I would imagine that that area could get congested particularly during peak travel times.

"It's heavily dependent on what direction you're going and what day you leave," he said. "Take a look at the current traffic conditions before you leave. If you see a lot of traffic, wait awhile and let the congestion ease up."

According to GasBuddy, 30 percent of Americans said the higher national prices this year will impact their travel plans over Thanksgiving, but 65 percent of those polled in the app's annual travel survey stated they still planned to drive, a 7 percent increase from 2018.

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"Consumers are spending money, consumer confidence is pretty strong, and in Massachusetts in particular there is very low unemployment," Schieldrop said. "There are people who have certainly been struggling in Massachusetts, but by and large the economy is strong."

Weather can also be a factor in limiting travel over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but no serious weather systems are expected to impact the Berkshires this week. A 60 percent chance of rain is predicted in the Berkshires both Wednesday and Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service, with a 50 percent change of scattered showers expected on Thanksgiving Day.

"The top priority during the Thanksgiving travel period is safety," said Mass DOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver, in a statement. "Before heading out, travelers should evaluate weather conditions so smart decisions can be made about when to leave and return from trips. We want everyone to safely arrive at their destinations to be able to celebrate the holiday with their family and friends."

"We caution people to take any forecast or projection with a little bit of a grain of salt," Schieldrop said. "Any traffic projection gets thrown out the window when you're dealing with bad weather."

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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