Technology and travel apps can put motorists on the right path over the Memorial Day weekend, but there are no guarantees they will solve all the hassles of higher gas prices and 3 million Texans hitting the road.
Sticker shock has broken out statewide, as the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded hit $2.76 Thursday, 6 cents more than a week ago and 58 cents more than the same day last year, according to AAA Texas/New Mexico, the auto club. Motorists in Midland, in the heart of the oil patch, are paying the most, an average of $3.06 a gallon.
The Texas Department of Transportation is doing what it can, not scheduling additional work-related closings over the weekend and installing temporary signs alerting travelers to traffic conditions.
Then there are smartphones, GPS systems and free travel apps, which can improve the ride to see friends, relatives or attractions.
If a travel app gives the option, it is best to choose the preference for the quickest route, not the shortest, said J.R. Rivera, commercial manager at Pep Boys in Waco. Stop-and-go side streets could make a route covering less distance take more time, Rivera said.
“Quickest is the best,” he said. “The shortest may have 10 red lights before you reach your destination. It does not always prove out.”
AAA offers a free travel app for smartphones, spokesman Daniel Armbruster said.
“It includes a feature that lets you know the cheapest gas nearest you, so you don’t have to drive all over the place looking for it,” Armbruster said. “Everyone has their favorite gas station, but if you’re driving in an unfamiliar location, this really can save you money. I use it myself pretty often.”
Chris Evilia, executive director of the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization, tracks traffic patterns as part of his job. When he travels, he takes advantage of his smartphone’s capabilities, which continue to evolve, Evilia said.
“If I’m going to drive a significant distance, I do consult my device before leaving and map out alternative routes,” Evilia said. “There are challenges, though, in that some systems choose the shortest routes but not necessarily the most appropriate routes. You may be directed onto residential streets not designed for heavy traffic, and especially not trucks.”
Asked about apps that direct drivers around bottlenecks and construction, Evilia said they may prove invaluable. But if everybody uses the same escape route, they could face even more congestion as they get funneled onto frontage roads not meant for high traffic volumes, he said.
“Fortunately, many apps are sophisticated enough to recognize the clogging and to offer an alternative to the alternative,” Evilia said.
Travelers should use extra caution navigating a 21-mile stretch of Interstate 35 being widened between Temple and Bruceville-Eddy, as barriers and detours remain in place, TxDOT spokeswoman Jodi Wheatley said.
The public can access updates on I-35 conditions at www.my35.org/central, a site that also provides instructions on signing up to receive text messages and alerts from TxDOT, Wheatley said.
Armbruster, with AAA, said higher gas prices seemingly will not keep Texans housebound.
“Automobile travel will increase for the fourth straight year, by nearly 5 percent over last Memorial Day,” he said, citing AAA surveys. “The 88 percent of travelers choosing to drive will pay the most expensive Memorial Day gas prices since 2014. Gas prices are up primarily due to expensive crude oil, record gasoline demand and shrinking global supply.”
Lower prices for airfares and car rentals should make up for higher gas prices, according to a AAA press release.
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, airfares are 7 percent lower than last Memorial Day, landing at an average price of $168 for a round-trip flight along 40 domestic routes. At $59, the average daily cost of a car rental this Memorial Day is the lowest in the past four years, according to AAA.