Buckle up and get ready. It’s going to be very busy on the travel scene as we move into the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
According to AAA, some 39 million people across the United States will be traveling more than 50 miles from their homes. Five out of six travelers - about 33 million people - will drive to their destinations.
"Here in Wisconsin, we’re expecting about 826,000 people to travel for the holiday weekend,” said Pam Moen, spokeswoman for AAA Wisconsin. “The vast majority of those travelers will go by automobile, so roads will be very busy. But airports will also be very busy as we expect to see about a 9 percent increase in the number of people who are going to fly for the holiday as compared to last year.”
The numbers of travelers both nationally and in Wisconsin are actually 2.5 percent lower than last year’s Fourth of July weekend but there are a couple of reasons for the drop.
“Last year was a near-record year for Fourth of July travelers,” Moen explained. “Plus, we’re paying about 80 cents per gallon more for gasoline across the state. I think this year’s numbers are a strong statement for people's travel intentions.”
Rising gas prices are cited as the main reason more people will be choosing to fly this year than in 2010. According to GasBuddy.com, the average price of regular unleaded gas in the metropolitan Milwaukee area on Thursday was $3.56 per gallon - 81 cents more than last year at this time.
Holiday travelers can also expect a bigger bite out of their pocketbooks in the form of higher airfares, hotel rates and car rental rates. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, Independence Day holiday airfares are expected to be 11 percent more than last year, with an average lowest round-trip rate of $213 for the top 40 U.S. air routes.
Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase 3 percent from a year ago, with travelers spending an average of $147 per night. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $56, a 3 percent jump from last year.
Dells, Door County, Summerfest big destinations
But despite higher costs, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism is expecting a big weekend, weather permitting.
“We are highly optimistic that we are going to have a fabulous Fourth of July here in Wisconsin as long as the weather is good and we don’t have any terrible thunderstorms,” said Lisa Marshall, spokeswoman for the department. “Weather really does have a big impact on us and it’s the one thing we can’t control. But even if there’s some rain or hot temperatures, Wisconsin travelers will have plenty to do.”
Destination hot spots in the Badger state will include Door County, Summerfest in Milwaukee, the water parks at the Wisconsin Dells, and the Bayfield and Apostle Islands area.
“For them, their season really kicks off with this July Fourth weekend,” said Marshall. “They have a number of really popular events, including fireworks over Lake Superior and they do a great parade.”
Exercise care on the highways
If you’re planning on driving to your destination this weekend, be prepared for road construction and the watchful eye of the State Patrol.
“As usual in Wisconsin, travelers will see the orange construction barrels everywhere so we need people to be aware of that and use the 511 system in the state of Wisconsin to learn where the construction zone are as they plan their travel routes,” said Sgt. Nathan Clarke of the Wisconsin State Patrol. “The State Patrol will be out in full force and we’ve designated what we call a high-enforcement weekend so we’ll have our squads available to respond to the traffic incidents that will arise.
"We have a lot of travelers on the highway, but (we advise) the standard, ‘Watch your speed, watch your following distance, buckle up, and don’t over indulge in the intoxicating beverages’ while you’re out there celebrating the independence of the country,” Clarke added.
There is a piece of good news for motorists on the road construction front. The major east-west construction project along Highway 94 in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties is now finished and all lanes were re-opened on Wednesday.
But there is also a word of caution about this stretch of highway.
“We urge caution while drivers enjoy the openness of the new roadway, now that the construction barrels are down, to watch their speed and adjust to the new traffic patterns,” said Clarke. “We’ll also see a large amount of motorists coming up from Illinois to enjoy the northern woods of Wisconsin and Summerfest. Be aware of the construction zone issues near Mitchell International Airport on the 94 north/south project, too.”
Still planning your trip? You might to check out the events calendar at www.travelwisconsin.com. You can also download the Tourism Department’s free iPhone or Android apps, which will allow you use your phone’s GPS system to find specific events, attractions, restaurants and things to do wherever you may be traveling in Wisconsin.