Memorial Day Motorists Expected To Hit 10-Year High

If you’re hitting the road this weekend, you won’t be alone. AAA Carolina’s Tiffany Wright says 1,029,500 North Carolinians are expected to come along for the ride.

“That’s the highest number that we’ve seen in ten years, so lots more folks on the road this Memorial Day holiday,” says Wright.

Wright posits two reasons for the projected increase: an improving economy and lower gas prices.

“They’re considerably lower than they were this time last year. You’re saving about $1.07 per gallon.”

The average price for a gallon of gas in North Carolina is $2.55. Asheville has the state’s highest average gas price at $2.61. Wilmington is not far behind, with an average price of $2.59.

Wright says you can always expect to pay more at popular destinations.

“They’re always going to typically have the higher prices at the pump, and that’s just because they can. More folks are going to be willing to pay as they’re on vacation.”

Air travel is on the rise as well, with 82,800 North Carolinians expected to fly this weekend. The top destinations are Orlando, Baltimore and Seattle.

Wright reminds motorists, if you are driving, put away your cell phone and keep distractions to a minimum.

Freezing Rain May Lead to Slippery Commute Wednesday

Winter has officially settled in across the Tar Heel state, and our area is no exception. After seeing heavy rain early Monday morning, temperatures have fallen and led to the possibility of some icing as we continue through the week.

The National Weather Service has issued alerts – including a Winter Weather Advisory for Orange County and a Winter Storm Watch for Durham and Wake Counties – that will go into effect late Tuesday and remain through mid-day Wednesday.

NWS Meteorologist Shawna Coakley says Tuesday we expect to have lingering drizzle, but the real problems may develop late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

“We’ll have temperatures right within a few degrees of freezing, and that brings with it a chance of freezing rain,” she says.

Coakley says we are not expected to see major accumulation, but “certainly you could get some glazing on surfaces. And you might see some difficulty with travel on roadways and walking on sidewalks.”

Coakley adds the chance of inclement weather will be rather widespread.

“We’re looking at the whole area for this, the entirety of central North Carolina,” she says.

The Wednesday morning commute may be a slippery one, if the variables of the forecast develop over the next 24 hours.

After that, Coakley says the temperatures will climb above freezing for the foreseeable future and the chance of rain will diminish to close out the week – taking any chance of inclement weather with it.

NC Gas Prices Continue to Trend Downwards

AAA Carolinas reports that the gas prices in North Carolina are the lowest they have been in more than a month and drivers are paying less this July than the July of last year; this trend is predicted to continue as the summer progresses.

Public Relations Manager at AAA Carolinas, Tiffany Wright, says that the drop in gas prices this past month is certainly impressive, and that this current trend in prices is not going to stop yet.

“Gas prices are trending downward, and that’s something I think is going to continue,” says Wright. “When you look at the fact we’ve seen North Carolina’s average gas price drop 12 cents in a month, I think that’s saying a lot.”

She attributes to the recent decline in prices to a greater reliance on gathering oil within the U.S.

“They’re trending down right now because right now we are producing a ton of oil domestically,” she says. “So, as we rely less on overseas oil and, at the same time on our end, consume less, that results in declining prices at the pump.”

Because of this dependency on oil we have accessed on our own soil, Wright says that gas prices are not being heavily affected by the conflicts going on in the Middle East.

“It’s a little opposite of what you think would be happening right now, everything that’s going on overseas,” says Wright. “Despite that, oil prices are expensive, and they remain expensive, but they’re relatively stable right now because oil production and export levels, they haven’t really noticeably changed that much. So, we really aren’t having to rely that much overseas.”

While the unrest in Russia progresses as well, Wright says she believes that as long as we stick to our oil supply, we will not encounter much difficulty.

“It’s hard to tell,” she says. “As long as we keep producing as much as we’re producing domestically, I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Wright says she expects travel to continue to as usual, and gas prices will continue to fall below less than what they were around this time last year.

“July and August typically are the busiest driving months of the year, but right now gas prices, they’re really in a good position,” says Wright. “For the remainder of what we call the ‘summer driving season,’ gas prices might actually cost less than in recent years this August, just as long as the refinery production continues and remains strong.”

To see the AAA Carolinas gas price chart that compares prices from this year to last year, click here.

NC DOT Awaits Snowfall

GREENSBORO – North Carolina Department of Transportation Division Maintenance Engineer Brad Wall says preparation for this winter weather began Monday night into Tuesday morning.

“We put salt brine out on the interstates, (loaded the trucks with salt, and topped off the fuel tanks),” Wall says. “When we get the fallen precipitation, we’ll get them out on the routes, and they’ll begin to address the storm.”

He says the primary roads were also treated with salt brine; that process concluded Tuesday before noon.

Wall is in the NC DOT’s Division 7, which services Alamance, Guildord, Rockingham, and Caswell counties along with Orange. He says Orange will likely be the hardest hit of his division.

“With the temperatures, we expect it to start sticking immediately,” Wall says. “So as soon as we get some accumulation on the pavement, then we’ll start putting out salt.”

He says the trucks have been affixed with plows in addition to filling them with salt and topping off the fuel.

“We being with the routes that carry the most traffic,” Wall says. “We start with our interstates as well as our major primaries.”

You might get the urge to follow closely behind a truck that’s plowing snow to get the clearest route, but Wall says it’s safest for you to give the truck some room to work.

“The trucks will be putting out salt, most likely,” Wall says. “I would stay several car-lengths back—anywhere from 300 to 500 feet back.”

Triangle Expressway Toll Increases 5% With New Year

TRIANGLE – Commuters using the Triangle Expressway will pay more in 2014 as the rates increased nearly five percent Wednesday to pay off the bond that helped build it.

The increase was scheduled to take place and isn’t a change in the plan. But, now commuters traveling on the road every day will pay an extra $67.60 per year.

The first phase of the project opened in December 2011; phase two opened in August 2012; the third phase opened December 2012.

With the discounted rate using an NC Quick Pass, the rate to travel the full length one way is $2.77 up from $2.64.

Gas Prices Down, Labor Day Travel Up

CHARLOTTE – You can expect more people on the roads this weekend compared to previous Labor Day weekends.

“A big factor is gas prices, which are the lowest—this year going into Labor Day—than they’ve been since 2010,” AAA Carolinas Communication’s Director, Angela Vogel Daley, says. “We are seeing about an eight-percent decrease from where they were last year.”

She says with the combination of the national unemployment rate down nearly one full point compared to last year and a point-and-a-half from two years ago, the stock market on the rise, and gas prices down, Daley says all those factors provide higher likelihood of travel for the last vacation of the summer.

“Domestically, supplies are good,” Daley says. “Another factor this time of year is hurricanes, and we haven’t seen any major hurricanes comes through the Gulf so far. Obviously September is peak time for that, so that’s something we’ll be monitoring.”

And, Daley says this is a continuing trend of the nation slowly returning from The Great Recession.

“I think we’ve seen a slow and steady increase over the past several years,” Daley says. “There’s always other factors involved; obviously gas prices play a role, but this summer we’ve seen lower gas prices than we did most of last summer. So, we are seeing just a slight increase year over year.”

She says this year’s tropical activity, or lack thereof, has also contributed to favorable gas prices.

“Last year we were dealing with Hurricane Isaac, so that affected the weather, and it did cause a spike in gas prices last year,” Daley says.

Daley says the current conflict in Syria could contribute to added gas price increases. The United State and its allies are deciding whether or not to get involved after allegations of chemical weapons being used against civilians.­­­

Traffic Decrease Expected Ahead of Deadliest Day for Drivers

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CHARLOTTE – With the July 4 holiday coming up, the American Automobile Association (AAA) is warning drivers to be careful, as a recent AAA study found that Independence Day is the deadliest day for car crashes.

Public relations manager for AAA Carolinas, Angela Daley, says July 4 is consistently the deadliest day for car accidents because, unlike other holidays, it always falls on the same date.

“For Memorial Day and Labor Day, it changes based on the year, so July 4 is always going to be the holiday for every year,” Daley says.

In its study, AAA attributed the high number of traffic fatalities to the higher number of drivers on the road and the fact that many people drink during Independence Day celebrations, impairing their driving.

July 4 also has more drivers than other prominent holidays because, according to Daley, summer has the highest traffic volume of any season.

AAA estimates that 988,500 North Carolinians will be driving during this year’s July 4 holiday. But, this is actually a two-percent decrease from 2012.

Daley points out that gas prices have risen eight percent in North Carolina since 2012, but she also adds that last year’s travel numbers may have been inflated.

“Most years, the July 4 holiday is a five-day weekend, so depending if it falls on a Thursday, like it is this year, the travel holiday is through Wednesday to Sunday,” Daley says. “But every seven years, it falls on a Wednesday, and that’s what happened last year.”

By comparison, North Carolina traffic during July 4 in 2011 was around 940,000.

Hit the Road with Healthy Travel Tips

1. Stay hydrated. Carry a BPA-free water bottle and keep it filled with fresh water to drink throughout the day. Staying hydrated will keep the munchies away as well as reduce feelings of tiredness. Remember if you are traveling in a foreign country, you may need to stick to purchasing a factory bottled water to prevent GI upset.

2. Stock up on healthy snacks such as nuts, fruit (dried or fresh), and bars such as Larabars or Kashi bars. Keeping a healthy snack close will save you money and calories as you may be compelled to purchase junk foods that provide no nutritional value in a moment of hunger.

3. If you have access to a kitchen, take a trip to the local market for a few items to prepare a simple meal at home. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain breads and pasta for a tasty healthy meal to break the pattern of restaurant eating. Breakfast is also an easy meal to prepare which will assure you avoid fast food restaurants with many high fat offerings. A simple breakfast may consist of a low fat yogurt, fresh fruit, and granola or a whole grain cereal and skim milk.

4. Know your restaurant. Many restaurants now have menus online that can be accessed with the internet. Check out the menu before you go so that you are not persuaded by hunger or emotions to make less than healthy choices when you arrive at the restaurant. Search your smart phone apps for menus and recommendations for restaurants that provide healthier options.

5. Control portion sizes. Choose items that have half or smaller portions or allow you to share entrees. If you have refrigeration available, ask for a take-out container when your food is delivered so that you can take half home for another meal. Do not make the mistake of waiting until you feel you have eaten enough to ask for the container – it may taste so good that you have nothing to take home with you! Dessert can be an option as well as long as you again, share or take half home.

6. More restaurant tips:
A. Ask the waiter to keep the bread basket away – a couple of slices of bread and butter can start the meal off with many unwanted calories. If others would like bread, ask them to keep the basket at the opposite end of the table to reduce temptation.

B. Ask for sauces and dressings on the side so that you are in control of the amounts consumed.

C. Substitute steamed vegetables for fried vegetables.

D. Ask for half portion of potatoes, rice, or pasta.

7. Don’t forget to exercise! Walk, run, or bike through the area. It’s a great way to get an idea of what the area has to offer in terms of recreation and even shopping. If you prefer to stay indoors, take advantage of the hotel’s exercise facilities or a local health club which may offer a daily rate to visitors.

8. An important note – Do not attempt to lose weight! This is one of those times, much like holidays, that weight maintenance should be the goal rather than weight loss. Be conscious of your food choices and mindful of your eating patterns and save the weight loss goals for when you return home.

Enjoy your vacation and stay healthy!

Just our thoughts …..
Amy Moyer, M.Ed., RD, LDN

Let’s hear your feedback on how to vacation with a healthy approach.