Busy travel period kicking off with lower gas prices

South Carolinians traveling for the holidays will get a gift at the gas pump.

The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded is $3.03 in South Carolina, down 60 cents since peaking in mid-September, according to AAA Carolinas. The price has fallen about 9 cents a gallon since folks traveled for Thanksgiving.

In the Myrtle Beach area, a gallon of gas is going for an average $2.99, down almost a dime a gallon from a week ago, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.

Nationally, retail gasoline prices have fallen to the lowest level in a year as refineries restored production and stockpiles rose to an eight-month high, according to a Bloomberg News report.

Lower demand and high inventories likely will keep prices stable or cause them to drop slightly during the holidays, AAA Carolinas said.

About 1.3 million South Carolinians, about 2 percent more than a year ago, are expected to travel during the Christmas and New Year’s period, from Saturday through Jan. 1, according to AAA Carolinas, which released its forecast for holiday travel Tuesday.

Most of them -- about 1.17 million -- will drive to their destinations. About 77,800 will fly, up about 4 percent from a year ago.

Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is amid a $118 million expansion project, has set aside more parking spaces for the coming holidays, just as it did during the heavily-traveled Thanksgiving period, spokesman Kirk Lovell said.

South Carolinians are expected to travel an average of 765 miles from home.

This holiday period is one of the most dangerous for traveling, AAA Carolinas said, adding that 68 people died on S.C. roads last year.

“Besides being the longest holiday period, the Christmas/New Year’s holiday is one of the most dangerous,” David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, said in a news release. “Motorists should be patient with road congestion and obey all traffic laws.”

Traffic started picking up along the Grand Strand this past weekend, said Lance Cpl. Sonny Collins with the S.C. Highway Patrol, which has kicked off its holiday DUI crackdown. Roads around major shopping centers are busy as you’d expect with the last-minute gift-hunting rush, but troopers also will be watching for impaired drivers leaving holiday parties as well as gatherings to watch the football bowl games.

“It’s going to be a busy next 10, 15 days or so,” Collins said.