Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Transportation

Highway traffic not expected to be a problem over July Fourth holiday

The road to Clearwater Beach likely will be slow as ever. But for Independence Day travelers planning to catch a flight or drive out of town, the forecast looks good.

Highway traffic won't likely be an issue this holiday, said David Botello, spokesman for Florida Department of Transportation.

"It shouldn't affect anything as far as Fourth of July plans," he said. "Everything is going to be as usual."

And a lack of major construction projects will keep highways flowing freely.

"A lot of communities have their own fireworks and festivities around here, so coming up I-75 isn't usually too bad," he said.

Because Independence Day falls on a Thursday, the roads will be a little less crowded. AAA Travel estimates that 40.8 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home this year, a 0.8 percent dip from last year's Wednesday holiday.

The association cited several reasons why people are staying home, including feeble economic growth and the federal government's decision this year to let the payroll tax cut expire, ending a temporary income boost of several hundred dollars a year for the average American family.

But this holiday is still the busiest of the summer season, with kids free from school and ready for vacation. Most families — 84 percent — will travel by car, though air travel is becoming more popular. An Orbitz index said 66 percent of Americans plan to make the holiday a long weekend, and for the second year in a row, Orlando is their top destination.

At Tampa International Airport, the busiest travel day will be Sunday. The AAA report says almost 40 percent of travelers plan to return then.

"Anyone traveling over this holiday, especially if they're traveling on the weekends, will want to allow some extra time to get through screening," said Christine Osborn, spokeswoman for the airport. That means arriving no less than 90 minutes before the flight. She said parking won't be a problem, but curbside parking has been disallowed since Christmastime. For those picking people up, the cellphone waiting lot is a good option, featuring free Wi-Fi and flight information.

As is usual for holidays, Florida troopers are abandoning administrative offices to get on the road and crack down on speeders, aggressive drivers and those under the influence, Sgt. Steve Gaskins of Florida Highway Patrol said. "We have a greater visible presence as a deterrent," he said. He said drivers should break long drives into parts and avoid distracted driving.

Gas might cost a little more for drivers, but likely not enough to affect plans, AAA said. Prices are up 2 percent on average from this time last year. And gas along the Gulf Coast is still some of the cheapest in the nation.

Claire McNeill can be reached at [email protected] Twitter: @clairemcneill.

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