A record-setting 2.9 million Texans will take driving trips during the July Fourth holiday, and they may encounter falling gasoline prices at the pump.
Or they may not, according to an analyst with GasBuddy.
The AAA Texas auto club reported Thursday that fuel prices have dropped 4 cents statewide the past week, settling at $2.65 per gallon of regular unleaded. But putting that in perspective, holiday travelers in Texas were paying $2.05 a gallon for the same grade a year ago, according to AAA.
Undeterred, a record 3.4 million Texans “will take to the roads, skies, rails and waterways,” more than ever before, AAA Texas general manager Kent Livesay wrote in a press release.
“A strong economy is allowing for consumers to take advantage of more opportunities to travel this holiday, contributing to an already busy summer travel season,” Livesay wrote.
Locally, all major tourist attractions will welcome guests on July Fourth, including the Cameron Park Zoo, Texas Ranger Museum, Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Dr Pepper Museum, the Waco Mammoth National Monument, the Mayborn Museum, Magnolia Market at the Silos and Magnolia Table, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ new restaurant on Waco’s traffic circle.
Crowds they draw may help Waco flex its muscle as a tourist destination. Hotel-motel revenue in May totaled $6.7 million, a 26 percent jump from May of last year. Year-to-date through May, area hotels and motels have seen revenues climb 15 percent, to $22.7 million, according to a report statewide economist Karr Ingham released Thursday.
“Our hotel occupancy rate stands at 77 percent, third-highest in the state behind only the Midland-Odessa market, which is in the heart of the oil patch, and Beaumont-Port Arthur, whose hotels and motels continue to be filled with people displaced by Hurricane Harvey,” said Kris Collins, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.
The July Fourth holiday in Waco will conclude with H-E-B Fireworks Over The Brazos at 9:15 p.m., with explosions appearing in the sky between McLane Stadium and the Ferrell Center. Parking will be available adjacent to each facility.
Nationally, 46.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home during the July Fourth holiday travel period, which AAA defines as Tuesday through July 8.
“INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, predicts travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. could be twice as long as the normal trip, with Tuesday being the busiest day,” a AAA press release states.
July Fourth falls on a Wednesday this year, giving travelers the flexibility to schedule weekend trips before or after the holiday, a factor that is contributing to the almost 6 percent projected increase in people driving, flying or taking trains, buses or boats to their destinations, according to AAA.
Travelers should remain alert passing through Central Texas, as construction has reduced Interstate 35 to two lanes in each direction in Temple, Bruceville-Eddy and Troy, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jodi Wheatley said. She said crews will not be working Wednesday.
AAA Texas reported Thursday that Waco’s citywide average price for a gallon of regular unleaded had fallen 3 cents, to $2.60. GasBuddy.com showed on Friday that better deals were available at the Sam’s Club on East Waco Drive, which was charging $2.45 a gallon for regular unleaded, and at scattered Stripes, Walmart and H-E-B locations, as well as the Flying J travel center on I-35, all charging $2.48 or $2.49 per gallon.
GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan was not as optimistic about gas prices continuing their race to the bottom.
“After five straight weeks of prices dropping, gas prices are likely to increase again ahead of July 4 as oil prices surged to $73 per barrel yesterday, the highest since 2014,” DeHaan wrote in a press release Thursday.
The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded now stands at $2.90, the highest around July Fourth since 2014, when the national norm hit $3.66 per gallon, according to the press release.
“The State Department ordered buyers to curb their oil purchases from Iran by November,” DeHaan wrote. “In addition, OPEC’s smaller than expected oil production increase last week fueled speculation that global inventories will continue to drop.”
Motorists will spend $1.02 billion more on gas in the first four days of July than they did last year, but the higher prices are not likely to cut into holiday travel plans, DeHaan wrote.
Travelers visiting Texas state parks over the holiday and throughout the summer are encouraged to hydrate, dress smart, stay salty, use a buddy system and plan ahead to avoid problems that triple-digit temperatures may create.
A fact sheet from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urges park visitors to drink at least 16 ounces of water every hour in the heat. Hikers should wear light loose-fitting clothing, a hat, appropriate shoes, sunscreen and wet bandanas, according to the tip sheet. Hikers also should consume snacks including jerky, granola, trail mix, tuna and dried fruit to nourish their bodies.