Higher national gasoline prices than a year ago won’t deter what AAA expects will be a record number of travelers over Labor Day, and officials at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport predict no slowdown in flying following a record-breaking month in July.
Nationally, 34 million people will take to the roads and air on the symbolic last weekend of the summer, according to the automobile club. That’s an increase of 2 percent from last year in spite of national gas prices that are on average 12 cents higher per gallon than in 2003, AAA said.
An estimated 28.7 million Americans, or 84 percent of travelers, will go by car.
Arizona gas prices are 3 cents lower than last Labor Day weekend and 4 cents less than the $1.99 a gallon motorists were paying over the July 4th weekend.
"This whole summer we’ve seen the number of travelers go up," said David Cowley, AAA Arizona spokesman. "It’s been between 1 (percent) and 2 percent higher than last year. We we re ac t u a l l y predicting a little bit more than that, thinking that we might get as high as between 2 (percent) and 4 percent."
High gas prices, particularly in the last three weeks, has lead to lower demand, but it remains about the same as last year, Cowley said.
In Arizona, the statewide average price for self-serve unleaded rose nearly 2 cents since the last week to nearly $1.95 per gallon. The national average is just over $1.85 a gallon, dropping more than 2 cents in the last week.
In the south East Valley, prices at the pump increased 4 cents per gallon last week to $1.93. Last year at this time, following a summer gasoline pipeline break, prices were $2.09 a gallon in the East Valley.
In Scottsdale, prices increased more than 3 cents a gallon this week to settle at $1.97, 15 cents less than they were a year ago.
Gas prices typically start to fall after the Labor Day holiday because of a decrease in demand. However, high crude oil prices and above average wholesale prices in California have caused Arizona gas prices to rise after several weeks of decline. Arizona gets 60 percent to 70 percent of its fuel supply from California, making the state susceptible to any changes in that state’s gasoline supply or price
For the convenience of drivers, the Arizona Department of Transportation will sus- pend construction over the weekend on the state’s freeways. For those headed to popular destinations around the state, the department noted several highway improvements from last year.
The work includes a new interchange connecting Interstates 10 and 19 in Tucson, the state Route 260 bypass in Camp Verde, new lanes on state Route 95 in Lake Havasu City and new lanes on state Route 260 near Christopher Creek east of Payson.
The majority of auto travelers will originate from the West with 7 million people expected to hit the road, AAA said. Oceans and beaches top the list of preferred destinations. For many Arizonans, Puerto Penasco, Mexico, popularly known as Rocky Point, and San Diego are popular beach destinations because they’re an easy drive.
Gas prices in some of the most popular driving destinations are: Los Angeles $2.11, San Diego $ 2.13, Las Vegas $2.06 a gallon.
The least expensive gasoline can be found in Oklahoma at $1.72 a gallon. While automobiles continue to be the transportation of choice, nearly 4 million Americans will go by air, an increase of 4 percent from last year. A Sky Harbor spokeswoman said this summer has been the airport’s busiest.
"It’s been busy and it is going to be busy this weekend," said Lexi Van Haren. "We’re actually busier over the spring and the summer than we are over the holidays. We’re going to have plenty of staff out there to try and help people and make sure everything goes smoothly."
Sky Harbor will greet holiday flyers with a new parking lot designed to keep drivers from circling the terminals.
Called the Stage & Go Lot, the lot is an area where drivers wait in their vehicles, free of charge, while passengers deplane, pick up luggage and walk out to the curb. The lot is located west of the Terminal 2 parking garage, across the street from the Executive Terminal.
The first phase of this project includes 90 newlypaved parking spaces and signs with all of the airlines’ phone numbers displayed. Upon completion of the second phase of the project in early 2005, a flight information display board will be installed.
At Tempe-based America West Airlines, a bustling weekend was expected to be tempered some by Hurricane Frances.
Company spokesman Elise Eberwein said the carrier planned to fly to airports in south and central Florida Thursday night, but planes would leave by late morning Friday. America West has nine flights a day to four cities in southern Florida.