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Labor Day weekend travel, spending set to increase

Holiday weekend travelers on the New York State

Holiday weekend travelers on the New York State Thruway northbound near Tuxedo. (May 25, 2012) Photo Credit: John Meore

Damn the gas prices; full speed ahead.

That appears to be the thinking as gas prices rise, but more Americans are preparing to go on vacation during Labor Day weekend than at any time since the peak year of 2008, according to a new survey.

The "AAA Labor Day 2012 Travel Forecast" predicts that 33 million Americans nationwide will take trips of 50 miles or more, a 2.9 percent increase over the 2011 holiday.

In the Middle Atlantic region, comprising New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, 11.1 percent of the population plans to travel, a 2.3 percent year-over-year increase. Of the 4.58 million people in the region traveling, the majority -- 3.84 million -- plan to go by motor vehicle, said Robert Sinclair Jr., AAA New York spokesman.

Sinclair said that an 11 cent-per-gallon increase in the price of gasoline nationwide in the last week is unlikely to alter vacation plans.

In New York City, gasoline prices have jumped from $3.90 to $4.10 in a month, he noted.

Sinclair said the increase in the number of travelers can be viewed as a "leading indicator," suggesting that Americans are feeling more confident about the economy. Still, the number of travelers remains far off the 2008 peak of 45.1 million.

Confidence also is reflected in a 6.7 percent increase in average vacation spending from $702 in 2011 to $749 in 2012.

Where are New Yorkers headed for vacation? The No. 1 destination is Niagara Falls, followed by Newport, R.I., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., Bar Harbor, Maine, and Virginia Beach, Va., based on map requests to AAA.

Traffic volume spikes on Labor Day weekend, according to the New York State Thruway Authority, and the Tappan Zee Bridge corridor through Westchester and Rockland is likely to see the heaviest load.

More than 2.6 million vehicles traveled over 93 million miles on the Thruway over 2011's Labor Day weekend, officials said. Almost a quarter million southbound vehicles passed through the Tappan Zee toll barrier over the 2011 weekend, about the same as in the prior year. (Tolls are only assessed on southbound traffic.)

The Port Authority expects 1.5 million travelers will pass through its airports, including 727,000 for Kennedy Airport and 448,000 for Newark Liberty from Friday through Tuesday.

The Port Authority also predicted that about 2.6 million vehicles will cross the George Washington Bridge and its three other interstate bridges and two tunnels from Friday through Monday. To ease congestion, the agency said it will suspend roadway construction for the holiday weekend.

Metro-North will run 18 extra "getaway" trains from Grand Central Terminal between noon and 4 p.m. Friday, four on the Hudson and Harlem Lines and 10 on the New Haven Line. Trains will operate on a Sunday schedule on Labor Day, as will the MTA's NYC subway and bus system.

A spokesman for the New York State Police said additional patrols would be added to cope with the weekend's heavy highway traffic.

The News12 weather forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and sultry temperatures up to 92 degrees on Friday, moderating to the mid-80s on Saturday.

Sunday and Monday will be partly sunny with highs near 80, according to News12.

The AAA forecast is compiled by IHS Global Insight, a consulting firm. The survey involves an initial polling of 1,350 households, followed by detailed interviews with 325 of those respondents.

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