By Doug Ireland
---- — Gas prices are rising and it could be rainy, but that’s not expected to deter hundreds of thousands of people from hitting the road this Memorial Day weekend, which starts today.
An estimated 1.6 million New England residents — or approximately 10.7 percent — will be traveling at least 50 miles from home, according to Pat Moody, spokesman for AAA of Northern New England.
Nationwide, some 34.8 million are expected to hit the road, he said, a slight decrease from the 35.1 million who traveled last Memorial Day weekend, Moody said.
They will be paying more at the pumps for gas than they were just a week ago, said Patrick DeHaan, an analyst for GasBuddy.com.
Average prices yesterday for regular unleaded gas were 4 cents higher in New Hampshire ($3.48 per gallon) and 5 cents more in Massachusetts ($3.53) than they were last week.
Those prices are still much lower than a year ago, when they averaged $3.68 a gallon in the Granite State and $3.69 in the Bay State, according to GasBuddy.com.
But the lower gas prices this year and a gradually improving economy are not enough to spark a large increase in travel, Moody said, but it also won’t discourage travel.
“Typically, when gas prices increase or decrease, it won’t change their plans for travel,” he said. “But it could affect how much they spend.”
When drivers do head out of town, they should be careful.
Police in New Hampshire and Massachusetts will be out in force, with extra patrols deployed along Interstates 93, 495 and 95, according to Capt. John LeLacheur of New Hampshire State Police.
Those patrols will be on the ground and in the air, he said, with the focus being on impaired and aggressive drivers.
Wet, slippery roads and less-than-perfect visibility could be factors as well.
Showers and thunderstorms are forecast for tonight and much of tomorrow, according to the National Weather Service. Saturday is expected to be cloudy, with a 50 percent chance of rain.
Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-70s today, but will hover in the 60s throughout the holiday weekend.
But meteorologist Margaret Curtis said the rainy weather will eventually make way for sunny skies.
“Sunday and Monday both look great,” Curtis said.
The New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism expects many travelers to head to the Granite State. This is also the weekend when many campgrounds open throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
A recent report projects about 540,000 out-of-state visitors coming to New Hampshire this weekend — about 1 percent more than a year ago, according to division spokesman Tai Freligh.
The report says these visitors will spend an estimated $88 million in the state, 2.5 percent more than a year ago, he said.
Travelers taking I-93 are likely to be pleased with open tolling in Hooksett. The new highway speed lanes for E-Z Pass customers opened yesterday, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.