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Increased traffic, checkpoints on tap for Fourth of July
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Gainesville resident Brooke Brackett isn’t going anywhere.

Though more people than last year are expected to travel this Fourth of July holiday, Brackett would rather stay home, relax and watch the fireworks at Laurel Park.

“The roads are too busy,” Brackett said. “There are too many deaths and stuff like that from drunk driving.”

According to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, the 2008 Fourth of July travel period (latest statistics available) saw 21 traffic fatalities in the state, and more than 25 percent involved alcohol.

In the Gainesville area, the Georgia State Patrol will set up sobriety checkpoints on Friday and Saturday nights, said Sgt. Dean Allen, commander for Georgia State Patrol Post 6, which serves Hall, Banks and White counties.

“Trying to save lives is our main effort,” Allen said. “That’s what we want to do. If we can save lives by getting a DUI off the road, that’s what we’ll do.”

The road checks will begin around 10 p.m. and last until the morning hours.

Allen said Post 6 reported 44 accidents and seven DUI arrests during last year’s holiday, but he does not expect an overwhelming spike in DUIs for this year’s Fourth of July weekend.

“I think people have learned to look for us, and they understand that we’re going to be out there, so they’re more inclined to get a designated driver or stay home,” Allen said. “I think people have been educated.”

He said the patrol’s focus will be on Friday and Saturday nights and not the actual Independence Day because he predicted people would be traveling, not celebrating, on Sunday.

According to AAA, an estimated 34.9 million people nationwide are expected to travel 50 miles or more away from their homes during the holiday period, an increase of about 17 percent.

The increase in travel comes after last year’s “staycation” craze, said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA. Now, people are itching to get on the road, see something different and enjoy their holiday weekends.

“Last year we saw a majority of travelers deciding not to go because of the economic conditions,” Brady said. “There’s been a pent up demand to travel, which is why we’re seeing a higher volume of travel this year.”

In Georgia, the travel increase is 11 percent, with most of those travelers choosing to go by car.

“It’s not a holiday such as a Thanksgiving or a Christmas or a New Year’s where you find people flying across the country to see their loved ones,” Brady said.

And this auto-heavy traveling comes despite gas prices, which AAA predicts will be between $2.70 and $2.85 a gallon for the holiday weekend.

“A lot of consumers thought they were going to see the $3 mark this year, but they’re not,” Brady said. “So it’s probably a sigh of relief for some motorists.”

To accommodate the holiday travel spike, the Georgia Department of Transportation will suspend construction-related lane closures on all interstates and major state routes from 5 a.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Georgia DOT Commissioner Vance C. Smith, Jr. predicts traffic congestion on Thursday and Friday will be heavier than normal, and rush hour starting as early as 1 p.m. Monday could also be unusually busy as people return from their travels.

And that’s why Gainesville resident Katy Calderon took her vacation to Orlando before the holiday rush.

Her plans for the Fourth?

“We’re just staying here,” she said. “There’s too many people.”