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    Travelers spread out their Fourth of July

    The midweek holiday shakes up traditional traffic predictions.

    By JEAN HELLER

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 3, 2001


    TAMPA -- Despite considerable uncertainty about the travel impact of a midweek holiday, one thing is definite: There will be no rockets' red glare, amateur-style, at Tampa International Airport on this Fourth of July.

    No glowing charcoal, either.

    The upper deck of the long-term parking garage has been a favorite spot for viewing fireworks displays, and the public is welcome again this year, with a caveat.

    "Every year we have to put on extra employees in the garage because people go up to have tailgate parties, and they start barbecues, or even set off their own fireworks," said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. "We have to stop that, of course," to minimize fire danger and to eliminate the possibility of damage to an aircraft.

    For airports, travel agencies and other business, this July Fourth is somewhat of a question mark, falling in the middle of the week.

    Other than the temporary traffic tie-ups anticipated as people come and go at the airport on Wednesday evening, operations are expected to be normal, Miller said.

    "With the Fourth coming in the middle of the week, it really breaks up the travel," he said. "It's nothing like a long holiday weekend."

    AAA Auto Club South is also unsure of the impact of the Wednesday holiday.

    "Frankly, we don't have a good feel for what it's going to be like," said spokesman Kevin Bakewell. "Typically, we can predict the heaviest travel days, but this one has us puzzled.

    "The traffic (Monday) morning, for example, was lighter than normal, suggesting some people took last weekend and Monday and Tuesday leading up to the Fourth. Others may take the Fourth and the end of the week. Or maybe take it all and make a nine-day weekend."

    As always, the Auto Club asked motorists to use caution on wet highways during the state's typical summer thunderstorms. Forecasters expected afternoon and early evening thunderstorms on July Fourth, with about a 50 percent chance of rain over most of the Tampa Bay area.

    The Auto Club also urged motorists to beware of the communities of Waldo in Alachua County and Lawtey in Bradford County, both along U.S. 301.

    "Those are the only two official AAA traffic traps in the state," Bakewell said. "They generate a lot of revenue up there from issuing speeding tickets because 301 is a major shortcut between the Tampa Bay area and Jacksonville and points north."

    The Florida Department of Transportation will give drivers a break on lane closures in construction around the Fourth, according to spokesman John McShaffrey.

    "In Hillsborough County, construction will resume and lane closures will occur at night beginning Thursday morning," McShaffrey said.

    "In Pinellas County, our contractor is taking the whole week off, but lane closures will begin again next Sunday night in the northbound and southbound lanes of I-275 between Roosevelt and Gandy (boulevards)."

    Speaking of breaks, travelers will find the price of gas slightly cheaper than during last July Fourth. The current average price of $1.51 for self-serve regular unleaded gasoline is down from last summer, the Auto Club said.

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