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Lower gas prices entice motorists to drive long distances for Thanksgiving

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James Knox | Trib Total Media
Pitt freshman Danielle Katts (center), 18, takes a bag from, Slippery Rock University freshman Emily Murray (left), 18, Tuesday Nov. 25, 2014 as friend Kelly Gross (right), 19, looks in the quad near the William Pitt Union on the Oakland campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Murray is Katts' ride home to Moorestown, NJ for Thanksgiving.
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James Knox | Trib Total Media
Erin Bedesem, 18 packs her bags into the trunk of her friend's car that will take her back home to Langhorne, PA Tuesday Nov. 25, 2014 near Holland Hall on the Oakland campus of the University of Pittsburgh.
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Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Bill and Valerie Wise of Atlanta, Ga., enter their vehicle after taking a quick break from travel at the New Stanton Service Area along the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. The Wise's were traveling from Washington D.C. to Ohio to visit family for Thanksgiving and departed a day early to beat the holiday traffic.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Thanksgiving travelers pass through security checkpoints at the Pittsburgh International Airport on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Airport Authority officials announced Tuesday the creation of a new permit for transportation network companies. Uber, the smartphone-based car service with drivers in personal vehicles, is the first to obtain one.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Thanksgiving travelers head toward security checkpoints at the Pittsburgh International Airport on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014.

David Murphy stood outside his daughter’s University of Pittsburgh dorm Tuesday, loading her bags and dirty laundry before their drive home to Ohio for the Thanksgiving break.

“It’s about a 4-hour and 15-minute drive. It’s the perfect amount of time to debrief a freshman,” said Murphy, 51, of Lima, Ohio. “(My wife and I) made a trip of it. We came here last weekend to watch her swim meet, then we went to Harrisburg to visit family and now we’re going home.

“But we have to have her back on Friday. I’m driving 1,600 miles to have Thanksgiving at home.”

The Murphys are among more than 46 million Americans who are projected to travel 50 miles or more during the Thanksgiving weekend — the most since 2007, according to AAA East Central spokeswoman Chelsea Pompeani. AAA measures the holiday weekend from Wednesday through Sunday.

About 90 percent of those travelers will drive, and it’s the first time since 2010 that the nationwide average price of gas has fallen below $3 per gallon. Gas prices in the Pittsburgh area average about $3.02 per gallon, compared to $3.38 last year at this time.

“People are taking advantage of the low gas prices and traveling by car,” Pompeani said.

About 3 12 million people will travel by air, or 7.6 percent of the total travelers. The rest will go by bus or train, according to AAA.

Pennsylvania Turnpike officials said they expect 2.7 million vehicles on the highway from Tuesday through Dec. 1, the most heavily traveled holiday of the year on the highway.

The day before Thanksgiving typically is the single busiest day of the year, with as many as 500,000 vehicles on the highway. The most traffic comes from 3 to 8 p.m., officials said.

The Turnpike is suspending all construction activity that impacts lanes to allow full use of the road through 6 a.m. Monday.

College freshmen Emily Murray and Danielle Kitts, both 18, planned to be among the Turnpike travelers Tuesday.

Murray, a Slippery Rock student, was picking up Kitts, a Pitt student, in Oakland before heading home to Moorestown, N.J.

“I haven’t been home since August. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed,” Murray said.

“I’m excited to see friends,” Kitts said.

Snow could add to traffic congestion over the long weekend.

National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Rehak said snow is likely to start Wednesday morning in the Laurel Mountains and accumulate 2 to 4 inches by the end of the day. Much of central and eastern Pennsylvania will get snow, Rehak said.

“There will be less than an inch here (in Pittsburgh),” Rehak said.

The forecast prompted the weather service to issue a winter storm warning that began late Tuesday and extends through Wednesday from the Laurel Mountains eastward toward Philadelphia.

Bobby Kerlik is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7886 or [email protected].

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