SALT LAKE CITY — Utah officials are planning for the extended Independence Day weekend, working to improve traffic efficiency for commuters and disseminating travel and fire safety information.
A record-breaking 44 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more during the holiday weekend, with 85 percent of those travelers driving, according to recent AAA estimates. The estimate is an increase of more than 1.25 million commuters over last year's Fourth of July holiday weekend.
AAA price estimates show that gas costs for the weekend are close to the lowest they have been since 2005. The national average, as of Thursday, was about $2.24 per gallon. Utah prices, however, are still about 30 cents above the national average at $2.54.
Vicki Varela, the managing director for the Utah Office of Tourism, said national parks may be especially busy during this weekend.
She recommends visiting any of the 43 state parks in Utah or finding activities close to home in order to enjoy the weekend without getting stuck behind long lines at the national parks.
The Utah Transit Authority will run buses, TRAX, S-Line and FrontRunner on July 4, using its Saturday travel schedule. The services will include late trips to end of lines on TRAX and S-Line services to help riders get home from fireworks shows in Sandy, Sugar House and downtown Salt Lake City. UTA will not include service to Park City on July 4.
"Should fireworks shows go late, we will try to accommodate them, but we want to make sure everyone gets home," said UTA spokesman Remi Barron.
Between Friday and Tuesday, construction crews will suspend most roadway projects throughout Utah and reopen lanes in anticipation of holiday travel. Lane restrictions will still apply on I-215 around Salt Lake City, as well as I-15 between Exit 4 and Exit 5 in St. George and on I-70 between Exit 37 and Exit 40 in Richfield.
Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason said traffic is expected to be lighter as it is spread over the weekend and into Tuesday.
But minor delays should be expected, he said, particularly with those driving around Provo during the Stadium of Fire celebration Saturday. He said drivers should take 800 North or Center Street in Orem and University Avenue in Provo to avoid construction and reduce traffic. UDOT engineers are also coordinating traffic signals in the Provo area to improve traffic flow.
Gleason advises holiday commuters to buckle up and put away distractions while driving. With people taking longer road trips, he said drowsy driving is also a growing concern.
"Not all of us drink and not all of us get aggressive behind the wheel, but we all get tired," he said.
Gleason said that when drivers start noticing their eye blinking or have trouble remembering the last few miles they have driven, that is the time to pull off of the road.
"If you are asking yourself that question, it's time," he said.
With several large wildfires burning throughout the state in dry conditions, state and federal land management agencies are implementing fire restrictions. Visitors are urged to check restrictions at utahfireinfo.gov/fire_restrictions/restrictions.html.
Also, possession and use of fireworks within national forest boundaries is prohibited by law at all times and is strictly enforced. Many local communities throughout the state also have restrictions about where fireworks can be ignited.
Unified Fire Authority spokesman Eric Holmes said fire notices can change rapidly, and people should check for up-to-date information before traveling.
He suggests attending officially organized fireworks shows instead of lighting off personal firework shows.
"If you’re lighting your own show, we like hard, flat, level ground — pavement preferably," Holmes said, warning fireworks lovers to avoid homes, dry vegetation and other combustibles.
A hose and bucket of water should also be nearby for used fireworks, and short fuses or duds should not be lit, to avoid injury.
He also advised adult supervision with fireworks, as nearly 40 percent of firework-related injuries happen to children and adults under 20.
In Utah, fireworks can be enjoyed during the three days before, during, and three days after the holiday. People may light fireworks between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. and as late as midnight on July 4.
Holmes also cautioned safety around barbecues, camping and cooking fires.
"Let's try to prevent it altogether if the conditions are overly windy or we can't control or see where the embers are flying," he said.