Thousands of Pennsylvanians are preparing to hit the road, railways and airways this holiday season despite high gas prices, a still sluggish economy and the lingering effects from the havoc Superstorm Sandy wreaked on parts of the state last month.
AAA Mid-Atlantic projects 1.6 million Pennsylvanians will be traveling 50 miles or more away from home over the holiday weekend, between Wednesday and Sunday. Those figures project a slight increase of .3 percent over last year.
But the group's study was done before Sandy and the aftermath from the storm could ultimately make the numbers lower than 2011, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Jenny Robinson said.
"It is too early to tell the full impact of Sandy for local Thanksgiving travel," Robinson said in a statement. "But many area travelers are affected by the storm, or have family and friends who are impacted, and are still figuring how to celebrate the holiday. Some folks are busy cleaning up storm damage, or trying to restock their kitchens after having to throw out spoiled food."
The storm knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers across the state, especially in the Philadelphia area. Some customers were without electricity for days as utilities struggled to restore service. Other Pennsylvanians have been spending additional time and effort repairing hard-hit shore homes in neighboring New Jersey, Robinson said.
Gas prices also remain more than 20 cents a gallon above the national average in Pennsylvania, Robinson said, something that could further stunt travel figures.
"People are a little bit tapped out," she said.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania State Police say they are stepping up enforcement efforts, including sobriety checkpoints, speed traps and other measures, for the five-day travel period.
State police said that during the Thanksgiving travel period last year, when travel was up, they responded to 122 crashes, made 28 DUI arrests and gave out 1,358 citations.
At Philadelphia International Airport, the pace was already starting to pick up Tuesday afternoon.
Olivia Melman, 22, is from Lower Merion and just started working in New York City in human relations for Citigroup. She was flying to Philadelphia from Chicago, where she had visited her boyfriend. The travel costs will set her back financially, but she didn't hesitate, because "My family's a priority."
"I think it's my personal style to say 'It's the holidays. Who cares?' And deal with the consequences later," she said. "Also, being home with my family definitely saves money."