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Record number to travel over lengthy holiday period
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Buford’s Friendship Road, above facing westbound, and the Interstate 985 area is the only Hall County potential holiday trouble spot in Northeast Georgia identified by the Georgia Department of Transportation. Construction, commuters and Lake Lanier Islands Resort’s Christmas lights display could cause traffic congestion. - photo by NAT GURLEY

If you’re planning an early holiday getaway, you might want to avoid the roads around the shopping areas; they’ll probably be especially crowded.

With Christmas Day falling on a Wednesday, the Georgia Department of Transportation anticipates more travelers than usual during the holiday week.

AAA is predicting a record 94.5 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over the holiday period, including 2.7 million in Georgia, matching the predicted 0.6 percent national increase.

It’s expected to be the fifth straight year the number of holiday travelers has increased.

Motorists should especially expect congestion near malls and retail centers throughout the week.

“We anticipate heavy traffic throughout, beginning (today) around noon,” said District Engineer Bayne Smith. “Mall and retail center traffic will be particularly congested.

“Planning your trip before you get on the road could help make your trip nice instead of naughty. Additionally, many travelers will be on our roadways over the weekend prior to Christmas and the following week.”

In Northeast Georgia, high congestion areas include, but are not limited to:

  • Interstates 85 and 985 in Gwinnett County, especially at Ga. 20 (Mall of Georgia) and Sugarloaf Parkway (Discover Mills);
  • I-85 in Jackson and Banks counties at Ga. 15/U.S. 441 at the Banks Crossing Outlets;
  • Ga. 400 in Dawson County at the North Georgia Premium Outlets;
  • I-985 at Ga. 347 for Lake Lanier Islands Magical Nights of Lights.

DOT is suspending construction-related lane closures from 5 p.m. today through 5 a.m. Jan. 2, according to a news release.

Emergency-related lane closures, though, could happen on any route at any time.

Of the Georgians traveling, 2.4 million by automobile, a 0.7 percent increase from last year, will be going by automobile. That compares to 85.8 million expected auto travelers nationally, a 0.9 percent increase.

Gas prices have climbed slightly from the multiyear low of $3.18 per gallon on Nov. 12, but AAA said most drivers would pay less than they did a year ago to fill up.

Gas prices recently increased because of planned and unplanned maintenance at a number of refineries and seasonally stronger demand for gasoline. Prices should decline by the end of the year due to rising supplies and increased refinery production.

Airports may be a little less crowded, with 147,325 Georgians expected to travel by air, a 0.4 percent decrease, compared to a forecast of a 1.4 percent decrease nationally to 5.5 million.

Bus terminals and train depots look to be even more sparsely populated, with 105,943 Georgians, a 1.4 percent decrease, expected to travel by means other than auto or airplane, compared to a predicted national dip of 4.2 percent to 3.1 million.

But you will need to confine your reveling to your destination. The annual Operation Zero Tolerance campaign is already underway and continues through New Year’s.

Law enforcement all over Georgia is out in full force to crack down on drunken drivers. The program coincides with the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign.

“You will see troopers, police officers and deputies making lots of stops during this highly visible enforcement period and if they suspect anyone is driving while intoxicated, they will show zero tolerance,” said Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Director Harris Blackwood, a Gainesville resident.

“If you are over the limit, you will go straight to jail. No warnings. No excuses.”

Last year between Nov. 20 and Dec. 31, there were 1,119 alcohol-related crashes in Georgia, which was up from 997 in 2011 and 836 in 2010. Those crashes in 2012 resulted in 679 injuries and 20 deaths.

“The December holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year and we are going to keep our roads safe for holiday travelers heading to visit family and friends,” Blackwood said.

“This holiday and every day, we are showing zero tolerance for drunk drivers. If you choose to drive drunk, you will get caught, you will be pulled over and you will be arrested.”