Pricey travel ahead

LAWRENCEVILLE - A majority of Thanksgiving travelers will drive this year, and they will be digging deeper into their wallets to do so.

It's no surprise that prices are up from last year at the gas pump. National prices are averaging $2.29 a gallon, down 48 cents during the last month but still about 32 cents higher than a year ago, according to a national telephone survey by the Travel Industry Association of America for AAA.

Motorists are also facing higher bills for hotels and car rentals. Holiday hotel rates are up 1.5 percent and rental cars will cost about 3.2 percent more.

Those costs are still unlikely to deter people from hitting the roads, said AAA CEO and President Robert L. Darbelnet. The company estimates about 30.84 million people, or 83 percent of all holiday travelers, will drive. The figure represents a modest increase of 0.7 percent from last year.

"Prices for gasoline, hotel rooms and rental cars have increased, but that will not keep people from traveling," Darbelnet said. "You'd be hard pressed to tell Grandma that you're not coming for Thanksgiving dinner because it will cost an extra $10 to fill up your gas tank."

At least one cost is avoidable - traffic citations.

Law enforcement officers will be patrolling the highways for speeders and impaired drivers to help prevent deaths and injuries. The Georgia State Patrol expects about 2,798 traffic crashes, 1,238 injuries and 13 deaths on Georgia roads beginning 6 p.m. today and ending at midnight Sunday.

In 2004's Thanksgiving holiday period, nine people died in auto accidents, and there were 3,115 crashes resulting in 1,233 injuries. Two people were killed on Gwinnett County roads last Thanksgiving weekend.

Officials warn drivers to be wary of drunken drivers.

"The Thanksgiving holiday period traditionally begins the Christmas party season and the potential to encounter an impaired driver on the roads," said Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.

Two of the nine deaths on Georgia roadways last year involved an impaired driver. Six of those killed on Georgia roadways were not wearing a seat belt.

The Georgia State Patrol will also partner with local law enforcement to enforce proper safety restraint for adults and children, Hitchens said.

The roads should at least be easier to navigate with the Georgia Department of Transportation's decision to scale back construction projects. The agency is suspending construction-related lane closings on all interstate and major state system highways beginning at 5 a.m. today until 5 a.m. Monday to ease Thanksgiving holiday traffic congestion.

There essentially will be no scheduled lane closures on any Georgia interstate highway or primary state route, said David Speer, spokesman for the Georgia DOT.

The department noted that some work may continue on lesser-traveled state and local system roads and incident or emergency maintenance-related lane closures could become necessary on any route. In addition, on Interstate 85 at the Alabama state line, bridge rehabilitation work will begin at 9 p.m. Sunday, necessitating a single northbound lane closure until 5 a.m. Monday.