Holiday travel

Gas prices down, but maybe too late

2012-05-24T17:00:00Z 2012-05-25T23:21:06Z Gas prices down, but maybe too lateBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

Memorial Day weekend travelers will get a slight break on gasoline prices, although wallets already emptied by this spring's price run-up will hold back many travel plans.

AAA forecast only a 1.2 percent increase in the number of people traveling 50 miles or more from home this weekend, with many cutting back on how far they are going.

The average holiday weekend trip will be 642 miles total, which is a whopping 150-mile cut from last year. In part that cut looks so big because the number of people traveling by air is forecast to drop 5.5 percent.

Almost half of respondents to the AAA's Memorial Day 2012 holiday travel survey said gas prices are affecting their plans, said Beth Mosher, of the AAA's Chicago Motor Club.

"They will either eat out less, stay at a cheaper hotel or stay closer to home," Mosher said.

A gallon of gasoline nationally was averaging $3.68 at the pump at midweek, according to the AAA's Fuel Gauge Report. That was down 18 cents from one month ago. In Northwest Indiana, a gallon of regular now averages $3.88, a 14-cent drop from one month ago.

"I think it's great because this time of year gas prices are normally going up for the driving season," said Tom Collins Sr., president of Luke Oil, which operates a chain of gas stations in the region. "I think this will be a great driving season for the consumer."

The mega-highway construction projects of the past decade such as the Borman Expressway/Interstate 65 rebuild are a thing of the past in Northwest Indiana for now, but there are a few projects still around that could slow holiday travelers.

The Indiana Department of Transportation will conduct its usual construction moratorium starting Friday and running through Tuesday morning, according to Matt Deitchley, INDOT LaPorte District spokesman.

"INDOT's No. 1 goal is always safety and mobility, so when there are a lot of people on the roads for the holiday we want to make sure they can move through," Deitchley said.

But lane restrictions will remain in place on a few significant projects.

The bridge on Indianapolis Boulevard between Ridge Road and 81st Street will remain restricted to one lane in each direction because of the $10.4 million replacement project that started this year. Those restrictions are expected to remain in place until mid-November.

The lane restrictions for the widening project on Ind. 2 at Interstate 65 and restrictions further up the road toward Lowell for the resurfacing project also will remain in place.

Anyone driving to have some fun in Chicago will get their biggest break in two years, with all lanes on Congress Parkway opened by Gov. Pat Quinn on May 15 with the conclusion of the $33 million bridge project.

"This is a major access point for people heading downtown and all lanes are open at this point," IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said this week.

There will be a major closing in the downtown area when the "Bike the Drive" event shuts down Lake Shore Drive to all motorized vehicle traffic from Hollywood Avenue to 59th Street from 5:30 to 10:15 a.m. Sunday.

Two major projects on the Illinois Tollway could lead to some inconvenience for travelers during the weekend, although most construction will be halted.

The Tri-Level Bridge ramps carrying northbound Interstate 294 traffic to westbound Interstate 90 and eastbound Interstate 190 to westbound I-90 are closed for bridge reconstruction work. Traffic is detoured onto River Road before returning to the expressway.

And between Interstate 57 and Kedzie Avenue, I-294 traffic in both directions is reduced to three lanes for the reconstruction of the I-294 bridges over 147th Street.

A 45 mph speed limit is in effect in all Illinois Tollway construction zones, whether or not workers are present. The minimum penalty for speeding in a work zone is $375. And in Indiana, speeding ticket fines are doubled in work zones, which often have reduced speed limits.

And motorists will have more than just speeding in construction zones to worry about, as police in Illinois and Indiana will be conducting enhanced traffic patrols.

The Illinois State Police and more than 500 county and local law enforcement agencies have been conducting additional safety belt and impaired driving patrols since May 11, according to IDOT.

Indiana State Police and local departments will have about 250 additional officers patrolling during the weekend as they conduct a number of enforcement actions, according to Indiana State Police Sgt. Kim Riley. Those include actions aimed at getting drunken drivers off the road as well as one designed to get people to buckle up.

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