By DOUGLAS HARDING
HUNTINGTON - This Fourth of July and on through the weekend, more Americans than ever before on Independence Day will be on the road traveling to temporary destinations and celebrations.
A recent report by the American Automobile Association estimates nearly 49 million Americans will travel for the holiday, a 4.1% overall increase from last year.
Of those 49 million traveling, a record-high 41.4 million are expected to travel by automobile, contributing to a 9% overall rise in expected delays and making it possible for drivers to face delays up to four times longer than average commutes.
AAA expects that Wednesday, July 3, will be the busiest day for travelers and will likely cause the most traffic congestion and possible delays.
It is estimated 9.1 million residents of the South Atlantic Region, including West Virginia, Virginia, North and South Carolinas, Maryland, Georgia and Florida, will travel from Wednesday, July 3, to Sunday, July 7, with about 8 million likely to do so by automobile.
The report suggests that lower gas prices throughout most regions of the country are likely a significant contributing factor to the increases in overall travel. Gas prices are currently averaging $2.67 per gallon nationally, making them 17 cents cheaper than at this time last year.
Jim Garrity, spokesman for AAA East Central, said the decreases in gas prices are rather abnormal, as prices generally tend to remain the same or even increase during this time of year.
"There are a variety of factors that go into (decreasing gas prices)," Garrity said, "but they are all coming together right at once to keep prices on a downward trend, which is ultimately good for consumers."
Decreased gas prices, Garrity said, are likely a significant deciding factor for individuals and families who may be "on the fence" about whether to make travel plans.
Along with those lower gas prices, however, have come increases in prices of other travel-related costs and services, like car rentals. Car rental rates are currently 5% higher than this time last year, averaging $69 per day.
According to the report, the most popular destinations for Independence Day travelers from the South Atlantic Region include Orlando, Florida; South Carolina's beaches; Virginia Beach; Niagara Falls; Washington, D.C.; Las Vegas, Nevada; New York City; Miami, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; and Tampa, Florida.