May 17 (UPI) -- Though gas prices are up about 5 percent from last year, motor club AAA finds U.S. road traffic during the Memorial Day weekend will be heavier than last year.
AAA reports a national average retail price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline at $2.34 for Wednesday, relatively unchanged from last week but 11 cents, or about 5 percent, higher than this date in 2016.
The motor club said Wednesday it expects 39.3 million people in the United States will travel more than 50 miles from home during the long holiday week, 1 million more than last year. If forecasts are accurate, it would be the busiest Memorial Day for travel in 12 years.
Nearly 90 percent of all holiday travelers will take to the roads, a 2.4 increase from last year.
Though low by historical standards, retail gasoline prices for this time of year are the highest in two years, according to AAA. The highest national average was recorded in July 2008 at $4.11 per gallon.
High is a relative term for gasoline prices. The average price for the four years ending in 2014 was more than $3 per gallon. Bill Sutherland, a senior vice president for travel at AAA, added that consumers have more money for travel given the modest gains in the U.S. economy.
"Higher confidence has led to more consumer spending, and many Americans are choosing to allocate their extra money on travel this Memorial Day," he said.
U.S. labor figures show steady gains in employment, though wages are relatively stagnant and some consumer price indices are higher than last year.
In a weekly retail market report, AAA said the summer travel season, characterized as a period between April and September, should lead to higher demand for gasoline and push up prices at the pump, though demand won't be strong enough to eat into national supplies and push gas prices to $3 per gallon for the national average.
A federal report from last week estimated gas prices will average $2.39 for the summer driving seasons, compared with $2.23 last year.