The last long weekend of summer vacation is here, meaning traffic -- especially along the major highway corridors -- will be heavy throughout Labor Day weekend.
People may be eagerly packing their vehicles and loading the kids to try to beat the heavy traffic rush up north -- or folks up north who may be heading south to get out of town to go to the Minnesota State Fair or other fun places around the state.
Whatever the case is, the message from law enforcement is to be the same -- motorists should focus on driving and use patience and caution when behind the wheel.
“Exercise some patience on our roadways, especially during the busy times,” said Capt. Joe Dwyer of the Minnesota State Patrol Brainerd District. “Everyone likes to visit the Brainerd lakes area during the longer extended holiday weekends, so with an influx of traffic means longer wait times in our municipalities’ two-lane roadways. Please be patient and take the extra time to enjoy your travels.”
Minnesota State Patrol troopers will work as usual on state highways -- including highways 371 and 210 in Baxter. Dwyer said troopers will combat four core areas of speed, seat belt use, driving while under the influence and distracted driving during the long Labor Day weekend. The state patrol will have more troopers out this weekend monitoring motorists for DWI -- so don’t drink and drive, officials remind motorists. People who are drinking should make plans to have a sober cab.
Dwyer said everyone has been acclimating to the hands-free law that went into effect Aug. 1 -- which helps with distracted driving.
“Without a doubt, everyone is being active in putting their phones down,” Dwyer said as motorists know they will be ticketed for it. “There is no scientific study, but just by our observations, it’s like a switch was flipped Aug. 1 where we don’t see as many. … Now we can drive in various areas and people are making a conscious choice to not be on their phones. It’s the behavior choice we were looking for.”
Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard also encouraged motorists to slow down and take the extra time to get to their destination.
“You will get there and then can enjoy the holiday weekend,” Goddard said. “Remember, hands-free is now the law, don’t drink and drive, wear your seat belt and please slow down.”
The Minnesota Department of Transportation urged motorists to use extra caution this Labor Day weekend. In a news release, MnDOT also asked motorists to be alert for people walking and bicycling as children return to school Tuesday.
MnDOT recommended motorists be prepared for slower moving traffic, think about using alternate routes from roads under construction and call 511 or go to www.511mn.org for information about road construction detours.
Highway projects in the lakes area that may affect weekend or first day of school travel Aug. 30-Sept. 3 include:
Highway 210 Brainerd to Ironton – Closed, detour through October.
Highway 10 Wadena – Closed east of Wadena, detour through October.
Highway 27 Little Falls – Closed, detour through early October.
Highway 371 Cass Lake – Truck and local detour.
Gas prices for the holiday weekend are lining up to be the lowest in two to three years, according to a news release from AAA. However, there are still a number of factors that could push prices higher before the holiday.
The average price for gasoline Wednesday in the U.S. was $2.57 per gallon. Drivers are currently paying nearly a quarter less than they did on Labor Day 2018, $2.83 and 4 cents less than on Labor Day 2017 -- $2.63 per gallon.
"Labor Day travelers will benefit from lower oil prices this year as they fill up for their holiday road trip," stated Mark Peterson, AAA-The Auto Club Group spokesman, in a news release. "Strong U.S. oil production rates are holding oil prices about 15% below last year's levels, effectively reducing the price of producing gasoline. Gas prices should remain low heading into the holiday, unless something unexpected threatens fuel supplies, like geopolitical tensions or a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico."
Labor Day marks the end of the busy summer travel season, and the last big surge in gasoline demand before the fall. The expectation of strong demand can promote a slight and temporary bump at the pump before the holiday. However, after Labor Day, refineries begin their seasonal switch to winter-blend gasoline. Summer-blend gasoline is more expensive to produce than winter-blend, because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires more additives in the hotter months of the year, a news release stated. The combination of lower demand and fuel production costs typically restores downward pressure on pump.
AAA updates fuel price averages daily at www.GasPrices.AAA.com.