S.C. situation

Approximately 443,550 South Carolina motorists, or 1.5% more than last year, are expected to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend, AAA Carolinas said.

Falling gas prices, currently at around $3.24, are helping drive the increase. The S.C. average price is 10 cents a gallon less than on May 22, 2012, and it’s down 38 cents from the Feb. 22 peak.

South Carolina has the lowest gas prices in the U.S. Charleston has the state’s highest, at $3.30 a gallon; Spartanburg has the lowest, at $3.20.

“This weekend’s favorable weather forecast will also encourage many last-minute travelers to get away for Memorial Day,” said David Parsons, CEO of AAA Carolinas.

In all, 505,000 South Carolinians are expected to travel more than 50 miles. Airline travel is projected to drop 5% to to 31,450 passengers. The use of other forms of transportation is expected to remain flat at 30,000.

The busiest times: Friday afternoon and night and Monday night.

It’s going to be another busy Memorial Day weekend on the nation’s highways.

Today through Monday, 31.2 million Americans will drive 50 miles or more to a beach, campground or other getaway, according to car lobbying group AAA.

That’s a small increase from last year, but well short of the record 37.3 million people who drove during the holiday in 2005.

Gas will cost slightly more this year. The national average price for a gallon of gasoline has risen 7 cents in the past week to $3.66, and could increase over the weekend.

Gas averaged $3.64 last Memorial Day.

Still, the price isn’t expected to reach the 2011 Memorial Day average of $3.79. The total number of holiday travelers should decline almost 1 percent to 34.8 million, AAA said, because fewer will choose to fly. AAA estimated that 2.3 million travelers will take to the skies, down 8 percent from last year.

“American travelers are experiencing fee fatigue and frustration with everything from higher fares to airport security. As a result, many are choosing road travel,” Robert Darbelnet, CEO of AAA, said in a statement.

The airline industry’s lobbying group, Airlines for America, said it expects a typical Memorial Day weekend, and sees overall summer traffic increasing by 1 percent.

The average domestic roundtrip airfare for June, July and August is $421, down $6 from last summer, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes almost half of all airline tickets sold in the U.S.

The travel forecast done for AAA by IHS Global Insight, one of the nation’s largest leisure travel agencies, is based on interviews with 306 Americans, and factors in estimates about the overall health of the economy.

In 2012, AAA underestimated the number of people driving on Memorial Day by 400,000. Part of the reason is that its report is prepared more than a month before the holiday.

Last year, gas prices fell more than 20 cents a gallon during that period. This year, there was a rebound in measures of consumers’ confidence in the economy that occurred after the AAA report was finalized, which could indicate a few more Americans will travel than AAA predicted.