CEDAR RAPIDS — More than 54 million Americans are expected to travel this Thanksgiving break — the most in more than a dozen years.
A November AAA report projects 54.3 million people will travel 50 miles or more during the holiday break. To prepare, law enforcement are ramping up their presence to keep the roads safe as airport officials get ready for bigger crowds.
Nick Jarmusz, director of public affairs with AAA-the Auto Club Group, said in a November news release that higher wages, more disposable income and rising levels of household wealth all have boosted travel nationwide.
“As a result, more travelers are kicking off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving getaway,” he said in the release.
The release defines the Thanksgiving holiday as Nov. 21 through Nov. 25 — with the least-congested travel days expected to be Thursday through Saturday.
“Drivers should expect increased travel times on Sunday as most holiday travelers will be making their way come after the long weekend,” the release states.
The cost of filling up the tank, however, could be a factor for some, with the weekend expected to see the highest Thanksgiving gas prices in four years. The national average in early November was 31 cents more than the same time last year.
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This past Thursday, the average cost of a gallon of gas in Iowa was about $2.48 compared to the national average of nearly $2.67.
Added law enforcement
Additional vehicles on the road leads to increased congestion, which can heighten the possibility of collisions.
As of Thursday, Iowa had seen 271 highway fatalities so far this year, according to Iowa Department of Transportation data.
That’s a decrease of 22 deaths compared to this time last year, and the lowest since 2013.
In Cedar Rapids, the police department again will boost law enforcement presence as part of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Buckle Up — Every Trip, Every Time” enforcement program from Nov. 21 to 25.
Proper seat belt use reduces the risk of a fatal injury to front-seat passengers by 45 percent and the risk of moderate to serious injury by 50 percent, according to a November Cedar Rapids Police Department news release.
“Seat belts are truly one of the things you can do to protect yourself in the time of a crash,” said Patrick Hoye, bureau chief of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau.
Hoye added that while seat belts are the focus, law enforcement also will be keeping an eye on drunk or distracted driving, as well as speeding.
‘Patience is key’
At the Eastern Iowa Airport, large groups of travelers are nothing new, as the airport has seen record passenger numbers in almost every month this year, said Pam Hinman, airport director of marketing and communications.
While Thanksgiving and spring break are regularly the busiest travel weekends of the year, Hinman said, the one benefit this coming week is that holiday traffic seems to be more spread out, with large numbers expected the weekend before Thanksgiving.
Tuesday still is expected to be busy, as well as the following Sunday for those returning to Iowa, she added.
“Patience is key with holiday travel,” she said.
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Hinman added that travelers are encouraged to try to arrive at least 90 minutes early to make it through security and reach their plane on time.
“I’d much rather have you waiting than rushing at the last minute,” she said.
In addition to ongoing upgrades to the airport’s terminal building, visitors to the airport will notice road construction as they enter the facility’s long- and short-term parking lots.
Hinman reminded travelers to keep an eye on directional signs.
The airport has added some new amenities to accommodate passengers.
In addition to last year’s new valet service, Hinman noted visitors also can check a coat in the airport if they don’t wish to travel with it. A coat check will cost a $10 flat fee and will be available at the information desk.
Hinman said the airport’s valet service has averaged around 20 people a week.
Both the coat check and valet services can be reserved on the airport website, flycid.com.
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