LIMA—Travelers should brace for congested traffic this week: AAA estimates 4.7 million Ohioans will be traveling at least 50 miles from home between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1, with the busiest vehicle traffic anticipated between Thursday, Dec. 26 and Friday, Dec. 27.
AAA is projecting a 4.2% increase in travel volume in Ohio this season, with the majority of travelers choosing to drive rather than fly to their destinations.
While gas prices in the Lima area are up about 38 cents over this time last year ($2.42 cents per gallon compared to $2.04 cents per gallon on Dec. 22), prices have fallen from their July 2019 peak of $2.77 per gallon, according to regional estimates for Lima provided by GasBuddy, which tracks gas prices across the U.S.
AAA’s vice president of travel said economic optimism is behind the anticipated record-breaking travel volumes, which have been steadily rising for the last seven years in Ohio.
“Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth,” AAA Travel Vice President Paula Twidale stated in the agency’s annual holiday forecast. “Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports.”
Ohioans who hit the road this week may encounter some comic relief as well: The Ohio Department of Transportation will be incorporating popular culture references into its latest distracted driving campaign.
On Christmas Eve, for example, ODOT message boards will remind drivers to save the left lane for passing slower vehicles, with the message: “Santa needs the left lane tonight.”
“While the subject is very serious, we have found that the public responds better to messages that are humorous or relate to pop culture,” ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks said last week.
Traffic fatalities have increased in 2019. According to ODOT, more than 1,100 people have been killed on Ohio roadways this year, an 8% increase over 2018. November was the deadliest month, with 34 more traffic deaths than November 2018.
“The vast majority of traffic deaths in Ohio are completely preventable,” Marchbanks said. “While we engineer roads to be as safe as possible, the one thing we cannot control is driver behavior. We’re urging drivers to put down the phone, buckle up, drive sober and obey the speed limit.”