More people in South Carolina will hit the holiday road this July 4 weekend than at any other time in the past 13 years.
More than 600,000 South Carolinians are expected travel for the Independence Day holiday – the most since 2001, according to travel club AAA Carolinas, with nearly half a million of them driving.
All of those travelers on the road should translate into good news for South Carolina’s economy, with increased spending on hotel rooms and dining out. But drivers en route to their vacation destinations will face higher gas prices than last year’s holiday and some danger on the clogged routes, the club cautioned.
Many of the estimated 610,500 South Carolinians who will travel more than 50 miles from home over the weekend will stay in the state, which should give a boost to the state’s economy. Roughly 482,100 of the travelers will drive.
Combined with travelers coming to the state’s hot spots from other areas, all of the activity should add up to a record year for tourism, state officials said.
“Things look really good,” said Marion Edmunds, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism spokesman. “It was a pretty rough winter, as we all know. That winter created pent-up demand for vacations and holidays.
“Now that the snowstorms are behind us and those wet, cold spring months are behind us, people are sort of getting rid of their cabin fever by getting out and traveling in from our feeder markets,” Edmunds said. “That’s leading to probably more short vacations, (where) folks are traveling in from our sister states to have a nice weekend or a long weekend.”
It doesn’t hurt, Edmunds noted, that Travel + Leisure magazine in its July 2014 edition, named Charleston the top city in the United States and Canada for second consecutive year, and the second-to-the-top city worldwide, behind Kyoto, Japan.
Charleston and Myrtle Beach are top destinations for travelers, as well as Greenville, according to AAA Carolinas.
Gas prices, however, are up 21 cents over last year. Unrest in Iraq is propping up prices at a time when they would typically be declining with refineries ramping up the supply for summer driving.
Still, South Carolina's average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas was $3.39 Wednesday – the lowest in the nation and 28 cents cheaper than the national average. The highest prices were along the coast, where many travelers are headed – $3.45 in Charleston and $3.41 in Myrtle Beach. The cheapest prices were in Greenville, with an average of $3.32. Columbia’s average was $3.40.
Drivers also plan to visit Charlotte, Wilmington, Nashville, Orlando, Gatlinburg, Greensboro and Washington, D.C., the club said.
Those traveling out of town will find higher gas prices. Traveling south, motorists will find the gas prices averaging $3.50 in Georgia and $3.62 in Florida. Going north, Virginia's average is $3.48. And traveling west, Tennessee's average price is $3.46, with Kentucky at $3.73.
Another concern with heavy traffic is accidents.
“July 4th has proven to be one of the deadliest days of the year for traffic deaths," said David Parsons, AAA Carolinas president and CEO, in the released travel forecast. “The holiday spirit and corresponding celebrations seem to outweigh caution, courtesy and common sense by drivers this time of year. And we will have more motorists on the road this year."
Traffic deaths soared over the July 4 holiday weekend last year, AAA noted, with 10 deaths, the highest in four years in South Carolina. Independence Day fell on a Thursday in 2013, making it a four-day holiday weekend for most people, which added an extra day of driving for the traveling public.
Also, alcohol was a factor in six of those 10 traffic deaths, AAA said. With Friday and Saturday fireworks scheduled throughout the state, and no work the next day, law enforcement and traffic experts are worried about an increase in drunken drivers.
“Don't turn a good time into a tragedy,” said Parsons. “Don’t drink and drive, and be especially vigilant behind-the-wheel. You may be sober. The other driver may not be.”
Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398. Twitter: @RoddieBurris