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Economy expected to dampen region's holiday travel

May 22, 2009 | 11:38 am

The tough economy is expected to affect the number of Southern California travelers who traverse the region’s local airports and roadways this Memorial Day weekend, according to travel industry specialists.

About 2.5 million Southern Californians are expected to take a trip this holiday weekend, representing an overall decline in travelers by 2.3% compared with last year’s Memorial Day, said Jeffrey Spring, public relations manager for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

“The economy is playing a part,” Spring said.

About 80% of the travelers, or about 2 million people, are expected to drive, representing a decrease of 2.1% over last year, Spring said. An estimated 213,000 Southern Californians are expected to take to the skies, a figure 6% lower than last year’s holiday weekend.

Southern Californians who are driving are likely to travel within five to six hours of their homes, Spring said. Las Vegas is ranked as the top destination for the Memorial Day weekend, followed by San Diego, San Francisco, Arizona and California's Central Coast, according to the auto club's survey.

Hawaii, which has opportunities for air and hotel deals, is the top destination for air travelers, Spring said. He added that travelers should be aware of strict speed limit enforcement in Arizona, where cameras and mobile speed units are being used to monitor motorists.

California Highway Patrol officials said they would have increased patrols on the roads through midnight Monday and would aggressively pursue drunk drivers, speeders and seat belt violators. At least 38 people died in fatal traffic accidents last Memorial weekend, said CHP officer Miguel Luevano.

"Sixty-eight percent of those people killed were not wearing their seat belts," Luevano said.

Violators face fines that have risen from $80 to $120 for first-time offenders. The fees double for second-time offenders. The CHP will coordinate with Caltrans to use many of the electric signs erected along California roadways to remind weekend travelers to drive safely and buckle up.

"We want people to get from point A to point B safely," Luevano said.

Spring, of the auto club, said that although Monday is typically the busiest travel day of the holiday weekend, Tuesday could yield high traffic volumes because many people take a four-day weekend.

-- Ann M. Simmons and Ruben Vives

Photo: Times file