Last updated: August 30. 2013 1:43PM -

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CHARLOTTE — An improving economy, higher consumer confidence and lower gas prices are expected to drive a 5-percent increase in Labor Day travel this weekend by North Carolinians, according to AAA Carolinas.


An expected 972,600 North Carolina residents will travel more than 50 miles from home during the five-day Labor Day holiday travel period, which is defined as Thursday through Monday.


“As the economy has steadily improved in the Carolinas, more families will take advantage of the last holiday weekend of the summer,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “Beyond that, gas prices heading into this weekend are the lowest they’ve been for any Labor Day holiday since 2010.”


Since rising to a summer high of $3.56 on July 21, North Carolina gas prices have fallen to $3.46 today - nearly 8 percent lower than the $3.72 average heading into Labor Day weekend last year. For Labor Day 2011, gas prices in North Carolina averaged $3.57 and in 2010 they were $2.58.


Gas prices remain low in spite of Mideast tensions due to abundant oil supplies, refineries operating at high capacity and no current threat of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.


Last year, Hurricane Isaac dampened Labor Day travel in the Carolinas, resulting in poor weather and a sharp spike in gas prices that deterred many last-minute travelers. This year, the National Weather Service forecasts a pleasant weekend ahead, with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s throughout most of the East Coast.


The most expensive gas in the state can be found in Raleigh at $3.52 and the least expensive is in Fayetteville at $3.38.


Motorists, who represent about 86 percent or 837,400 of North Carolina holiday travelers, will encounter cheaper prices this weekend at the gas pumps in Virginia ($3.36), Tennessee ($3.33) and South Carolina ($3.24), which has the lowest average gas in the country. Gas prices are the same in Georgia at $3.46.


“Drivers can save money on gas by not speeding, using cruise control and avoiding quick starts and stops,” said Parsons. “To improve your safety on the road, rest every two hours or 100 miles and avoid drinking and driving or texting behind the wheel.”


The majority of travelers (46 percent) will leave on Friday, and 43 percent will return on Monday, with another 42 percent returning on Tuesday.


The most popular driving destinations for Carolina travelers are Asheville, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Charlotte and San Francisco, according to AAA Vacations, the largest leisure travel agency in the Carolinas, which tracks personalized drive trip routings.


For the latest on construction delays, go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation website, www.ncdot.org. Click on Travel & Maps and then on the Traveler Information Management System for up-to-date traffic information related to closed travel lanes, accidents or expected congestion due to special events.


There are no construction projects on interstates in South Carolina over the holiday weekend.


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