Travel officials predict that Georgia’s roads will be clogged with Labor Day holiday travelers, and area law enforcement agencies are preparing to handle the extra traffic.
"We anticipate a very busy travel weekend," said Vance C. Smith Jr., Georgia Department of Transportation commissioner. "Traffic congestion is expected to be heavier than normal, with rush hour beginning as early as 1 p.m. in high-volume areas."
To accommodate the extra traffic, GDOT has suspended all construction-related lane closures on all interstates and major state routes from 5 a.m. today until 10 p.m. Monday.
Labor Day weekend also marks the end of the "100 Days of Summer H.E.A.T" campaign by Georgia law enforcement agencies. "H.E.A.T" stands for Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic. During the campaign, law enforcement officials focus on citing speeding and impaired drivers and those who weren’t wearing their seat belts.
"Over the last several years, drivers have become more conscious of wearing their seat belts," said Sgt. 1st Class P. Dean Allen, commander of Georgia State Patrol Post 6 in Gainesville.
"So (during this year’s H.E.A.T) we’ve been seeing more people wearing their seat belts. Even with H.E.A.T, we’re still gonna have speeders — no matter what law enforcement efforts are."
The goal of H.E.A.T is to reduce "high-fatality crash counts during the potentially deadly summer holiday driving period from Memorial Day through Labor Day," according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
"During the 2008 Labor Day holiday travel period, there were 19 traffic fatalities, and 76 percent of the people killed in car crashes had no safety equipment in use," said Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. "Additionally, four of the traffic deaths were alcohol related."
Last year, there were 1,660 traffic crashes with 798 injuries reported during the Labor Day weekend. This year, state safety officials estimate there will be 1,725 traffic crashes with 975 injuries and 18 fatalities.
One thing that isn’t expected to increase over last year is gas prices. According to AAA, the nationwide average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.68 during last year’s Labor Day weekend. This year it is about $2.60. In Georgia, the average price for a gallon of regular gas is $2.43 per gallon, compared to the $3.62 per gallon drivers were paying a year ago.
"We do not believe that fuel prices will discourage anyone from traveling during this holiday period," said Gregg Laskoski, AAA Club South spokesman.
Overall, AAA projects that 37.1 million Americans will travel this weekend, which is a 13.3 percent reduction from the decade high of 45.1 million travelers from last year.
"AAA expects this Labor Day holiday weekend to be the third busiest of the decade, even though the number of travelers will be down from one year ago," said Robert Darbelnet, AAA president and CEO. "However, with Labor Day falling a week later this year when many children will have returned to school, the decline may have more to do with the calendar than with the economy. Our forecast shows Labor Day travel will be up over this summer’s Fourth of July holiday, and that’s a positive sign."