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Lower gas prices expected to fuel increase in Labor Day travel

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Lower gas prices are expected to encourage motorists in the Triad and statewide to pack in one more summer trip during the extended Labor Day weekend, according to a AAA Carolinas report released Wednesday.

The Winston-Salem Journal is reporting that more than 1 million North Carolinians are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home during the five-day period, which begins Thursday. That’s up 1.3 percent from a year ago.

Of those travelers, 870,000 will be driving and 81,000 will be flying.

Gas prices, as of Wednesday, were down 3.4 percent statewide to an average of $3.349 a gallon for regular unleaded. Prices were down 22 cents since the July Fourth holiday and down 12 cents year over year.

For the Triad, prices have dropped 4.5 percent year over year to an average of $3.313 a gallon — the lowest rate for a N.C. metro area. Some Triad gas stations have lowered their prices below $3.20 a gallon.

“The continued downward trend in gas prices is good news for motorists and it’s one of the big reasons travelers are heading out for a final road trip during the last holiday of the summer,” Dave Parsons, chief executive and president of AAA Carolinas, said in a statement.

Gas prices in states with popular getaway vacation destinations are below the North Carolina average: Virginia at $3.19, Tennessee at $3.20, Georgia at $3.32 and South Carolina at $3.14 – the lowest average gas price in the country.

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel index, airfares have risen 2 percent this year with an average lowest round-trip fare of $219.

Barring a major development, such as a Gulf Coast hurricane, prices are likely to remain low, Parsons said. Despite tensions overseas, U.S. refineries are running at full tilt, and there is an abundance of supply.

“Unrest in the Middle East is not expected to push gas prices higher as analysts have assessed the potential for a disruption of oil supply to be limited,” Parsons said.

There is one major Triad highway-construction project continuing during the holiday period. Interstate 73 in Guilford County is being reduced to two lanes in each direction between I-40 and I-85 for a construction of a new interchange with High Point Road.

Expect to see extra patrols on roads as part of the state’s Booze It and Lose It campaign, which runs through Monday.