Gas prices up, seat belts enforced this holiday weekend


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If you're one of the estimated 32 million Americans traveling by car for the Memorial Day weekend, you'll want to buckle up, and then you'll have to pony up.

Pennsylvania State Police and local departments are in the midst of a seat-belt enforcement blitz, joined by authorities in 10 other states in the Northeast, that began Monday and continues through June 8.

Pittsburgh police had a four-hour enforcement period in which they checked more than 600 drivers, according to public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler. Random patrols will continue throughout the city.

State and city police and the West Hills DUI Task Force will set up a sobriety checkpoint during the holiday weekend, but aren't saying when or where.

Last year, crashes killed 425 people who weren't wearing seat belts, a 15.5 percent decrease from 2012. Crashes involving unbelted drivers or passengers also decreased. State police Commissioner Frank Noonan said at present, the usage rate for seat belts in Pennsylvania is 84 percent.

Failure to wear a seat belt is a secondary offense for most drivers, meaning police cannot issue a citation unless they stop the person for some other violation. But they can ticket drivers under age 18 who don't wear their belts or have unbelted passengers who are younger than 18.

AAA estimates that 36.1 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the weekend, up 1.5 percent from a year ago. Eighty-eight percent will go by automobile. The travel total would be the second-highest since 2000 and the most since the recession.

An improving economy and wanderlust induced by the brutal winter are factors fueling the increase, said Marshall Doney, AAA chief operating officer.

Speaking of fueling, drivers are likely to pay more for a gallon of gasoline this year, at least in this area. The average price in Pittsburgh as of Thursday was nearly $3.85, about 30 cents more than a year ago, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report.

AAA said it expects national prices to be slightly lower than the $3.63 per gallon average a year ago.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike expects 2 million vehicles to use America's First Superhighway, and delays are likely during peak travel times today and Monday.

The turnpike cleared all lanes of construction starting at 3 p.m. Thursday, continuing through 6 a.m. Wednesday. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will suspend road work for the weekend but some fixed-lane closures in work zones will remain.

Those include single-lane traffic in both directions on Interstate 79 just north of Zelienople, where repairs are underway to bridges damaged by a truck, and at Route 422 at Exit 99 in Muddycreek, where a bridge replacement project also limits traffic to one lane in both directions.

On Interstate 80, single-lane traffic is in effect between Exits 90 and 97 in Clearfield and Jefferson counties.

Both the turnpike and PennDOT offer hands-free, eyes-free mobile apps that warn drivers of incidents and delays. Once activated, the apps track a vehicle's location and deliver voice alerts. The turnpike's TripTALK and PennDOT's 511PA apps are available for free at the iTunes and Google Play stores.

PennDOT will close its driver's license and photo centers on Saturday and Monday. A variety of services will be available online at www.dmv.state.pa.us.

Port Authority will operate on a regular schedule on Saturday and Sunday and a holiday schedule for Memorial Day, when it will staff customer service phone lines from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Downtown Service Center is closed Monday. Extra service and two-car trains will operate on the Light Rail Transit system to accommodate crowds attending the Pirates games vs. Washington on Friday through Sunday. The team plays in New York on Monday.


Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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