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Thanksgiving travel dash under way, with nearly 40 million expected to hit roads, rails, skies

Long lines formed at airports well before daybreak Wednesday, but the annual dash home for Thanksgiving started smoothly despite predictions that more travelers would take to the roads, skies and rails this year than last.
    Nationwide, an estimated 38.3 million people will travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving, according to AAA. The estimate is up by a million from last year.
    Moderating gas prices may be one reason for the increase, said the automobile association’s Robert Sinclair.
    Since peaking above $3 per gallon in early August, gasoline pump prices have dropped by around 80 cents per gallon nationwide in the past three months. Wednesday’s nationwide average gas price was $2.23 a gallon, according to AAA.
    Thanksgiving air travel was expected to surge, too. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey anticipated 1.6 million passengers — about 2 percent more than last year — would pass through LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International airports.
    At Reagan National Airport outside Washington, lines were long even while it was still dark outside, but eased up considerably by midmorning. At one point, the wait at Starbucks appeared much longer than the wait at the security checkpoint directly below.
    ‘‘This place looks like not much more crowded than a regular day,’’ said Doug Besharov, who was traveling to Sarasota, Fla.
    The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport was bustling at midmorning, but the crowds weren’t overwhelming, airport spokesman Pat Hogan.
    ‘‘It’s certainly busy but we’re not experiencing heavier than normal waits.’’
    Drivers in parts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia faced high winds and flooded roads Wednesday as an early winter storm swept across the South.
    Despite the storm, no flight delays were reported at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and only a few minor delays were reported at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Wednesday morning.
    Traffic slowdowns were reported between the Carolinas on Interstate 95, one of the main arteries for East Coast travel, and some ferry service along North Carolina’s coast was halted on Wednesday due to the stormy weather. The state Department of Transportation said it would likely not resume until Thanksgiving day.
    In Virginia, a tunnel between Norfolk and Portsmouth was shut down because of high water, and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which links Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore, limited vehicles crossing the span to cars and pickup trucks due to high winds.
    Motorists along Interstate 40, an east-west highway that spans over 2,500 miles from North Carolina to California, will see more than just fall colors along the route this year: State troopers will be posted along every 10 miles of the highway.
    The coordinated effort between state police in the eight states the highway passes through — California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina — is aimed at reducing accidents and fatalities during the busy travel period.
    Bill Sadler, a spokesman for Arkansas State Police, said troopers will be watching for violations ranging from drunk driving to speeding, but said officials hope the beefed up presence will encourage safer driving.
    ‘‘It will, if nothing else, remind motorists that law enforcement is present to encourage these drivers to correct themselves,’’ Sadler said. ‘‘They will send the message that motorists should drive carefully.’’
    The Port Authority predicted almost 5 million people would pass through New York-area airports, bridges, tunnels and the PATH rail system between Wednesday and Sunday.
    Joe Bellone planned to be one of them. He was to head from his Long Island home to visit his fiancee’s family in upstate New York, and he had a plan to beat the holiday traffic: Leave at 3 a.m.
    ‘‘Since people are not out, it ends up being not bad,’’ said Bellone, 29.

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