Utah officials have a present for holiday travelers: no major road construction anywhere in the state for the first Christmas season in four years.
The gift comes at a good time. As residents shake off lingering effects of the recession, holiday travel is expected to hit a new record in the Mountain West.
"With the finale last week of our big I-15 and Mountain View Corridor projects, we don't have any major construction right now," said John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation.
Last weekend, UDOT officially cut the ribbon on both the $1.73 billion rebuild of Interstate 15 from Lehi to Spanish Fork, and the $730 million first-phase of the Mountain View Corridor from 16000 South to 5400 South in western Salt Lake County.
Their completion comes as the AAA travel services company estimates that 7.1 million Mountain West residents will travel this holiday season a new record, according to AAA.
"This season, we are now experiencing the highest number of travelers as Mountain West residents kick-start the New Year with a holiday vacation," said AAA Utah spokeswoman Rolayne Fairclough. "For the fourth consecutive year, the Mountain West region has seen a slow to steady increase in travel volume" despite a slow economy in the period.
During the holiday period from Saturday through New Year's Day, AAA estimates that 6.3 million Mountain West residents will drive at least 50 miles from their home, up 1.1 percent from last year. It says another 524,000 will fly, up 4 percent. Some 244,000 travelers will primarily use other modes of transportation, such as trains, buses or ships, up 3.8 percent.
AAA says its surveys estimate that a typical Mountain West family holiday road trip will be about 1,038 miles, and cost $694.
For public transit users, no TRAX or FrontRunner trains or Utah Transit Authority buses will operate on Christmas and New Year's Day, except for ski buses.
However, regular UTA service will be offered on Christmas Eve and New Year's eve, plus some late trains for people attending late New Year's Eve celebrations. Details are available online at rideuta.com.
Gleason offered some tips from UDOT for holiday and winter travel.
"We recommend that drivers prepare for winter conditions. Check the forecast along the route you're planning to take," he said. "Check your tires, lights, wiper blades and fluids to make sure everything is in good working order before you leave. Be sure to allow plenty of time to get to your destination."
He added, "Use caution when driving through winter weather. Slow down and allow a safe distance between your car and the one in front of you."
Also, he especially asks on behalf of UDOT, "Watch for snowplows. Give them plenty of room to work. Never try to pass a plow and don't follow too closely behind. Often, snowplows are used to spread salt or sand on the roads and there is a good possibility they will kick up debris. Be sure to stay back about 200 feet."
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is also urging Americans to make a holiday pledge for safety that includes using seat belts, obeying traffic signals and speed limits, and never drinking and driving or texting while driving.