Increased highway patrols, higher gas prices await Labor Day travelers
The thought will likely occur to every motorist driving a stretch of Illinois interstate today and again on Monday:
"Boy, it seems like there are a lot of cops out today."
That’s because there will be.
This busy Labor Day weekend the Illinois State Police will expand a successful experiment it tried during the Memorial Day weekend — saturating all Illinois interstates with state troopers.
In May, State Police positioned a trooper every 10 miles on I-55 from Chicago to St. Louis from noon to midnight on Friday, the main travel day of the holiday weekend. There were no fatal accidents on that road that day.
Starting today, troopers will be in place every 10 miles on ALL Illinois interstates, from 2 p.m. to midnight Friday and again from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday. The enforcement tactic is called "Stay Alive on the Is."
"People will see us out," said Lt. Jill Rizzs, assistant commander of State Police District 8 out of Metamora, who will herself pull a rare patrol shift on an interstate this weekend. "And our presence slows people down."
District 8 covers the counties of Marshall, Peoria, Stark, Tazewell and Woodford. It will have 15 troopers present on 50 miles of I-74, 26 miles of I-155 and 32 miles of I-39 on Friday and 23 troopers on those same stretches of highway on Monday.
"Every available trooper trained to work the road will be on duty at some point." Rizzs said. "We’ll have a full contingency."
Staffing levels on Saturday and Sunday will be routine, she said.
There were 271 accidents on Illinois interstates during Labor Day weekend in 2006. Two people were killed.
The reason for the increased police presence this weekend is because, when faced with the prospect of three consecutive days of no work, Americans tend to hit the roads in a cluster of millions of people. AAA-Chicago Motor Club estimates that 34.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, almost the exact same number that traveled last Labor Day.
If the roads seem slightly less congested it might be because approximately 28.9 million of all travelers expect to go by motor vehicle and that’s down — by 100,000 people — from last year’s 29 million.
The estimates are based on polling done by the Travel Industry Association.
Gasoline in the Peoria area is up a dime from the same time last year — $2.81 to $2.91 a gallon, according to AAA — though lower than the Illinois average of $2.98 a gallon.
Airports are likely to be crowded as well with an estimated 4.1 million people planning to travel by air, according to AAA. Ken Spirito, executive director of the Greater Peoria Regional Airport, said flights are full in and out of Peoria.
"There’s room on some, but all flights are full typically, and even more so this weekend," he said. "Even Saturday, which is usually comparatively slow, is busy this holiday weekend."
Spirito advised travelers — particularly those leaving on the first flights out in the morning from 6 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. — to be at the airport 90 minutes prior to take-off.
"That’s doing themselves a favor to plan to have plenty of time to get parked, get checked in and get through security when the lines are long in the morning," he said.
As the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day typically sees an increase in outdoor activities. But anyone who plans to picnic at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, or be spontaneous and camp or stay in the lodge without a reservation needs to make new plans. Six inches of rain last week shut down the picnic area at least through the holiday weekend. The lodge, hotel and 133-site campground are all booked.
"Last week’s rain event washed out some trails, some parking and the picnic area," park superintendent Tom Levy said, "People will come. Even when we were shut down after the rain, people still came. We’ll still have between 10,000 and 15,000 people here each day."
The park’s hiking trails had been closed due to the rain, but will be open this weekend — a little muddy in some areas, Levy said. The picnic area, equestrian trails and a parking area will be closed all weekend.
Picnicking continues unabated at near-by Matthiessen State Park on Route 178 south of Utica and at Buffalo Rock State Park outside Ottawa.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at (309) 686-3244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.