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Turkey Day travelers get ready to hit the road

Thanksgiving starts today for the people who have some distance between them and their turkey dinner, which means more motorists on the road and longer lines at the airport, bus station, Amtrak station and border.

Travel for Thanksgiving is expected to be up for the fourth year in a row, as more people put the recession in their rearview mirrors. Indeed, most travelers – 90 percent – are expected to get where they’re going in their cars, despite gas prices that are almost 10 percent higher than last year.

“Gas prices are not expected to have a big impact,” AAA spokesman Steve Pacer said. “It appears people are accepting the higher gas prices as if they’re the new normal. They’re finding a way to economize.”

Driving was a much cheaper option for Darin Johnson, who works in Manhattan as a medical device rep and is driving back to Springville.

With the cost to fly almost three times higher than normal, he and his girlfriend and sister, who are from Amherst, are taking to the road today. New York City has a gas shortage because of Superstorm Sandy, and with gas costing $4.69 a gallon he plans to fill up in New Jersey, where it costs about a dollar less.

Air travel is expected to be down 1.7 percent, according to AAA, but Buffalo Niagara International Airport will still be busier than usual. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority says it’s ready.

“We’re staffed adequately to handle the influx of customers, whether at the checkpoint, the concessions or parking services,” NFTA spokesman Douglas Hartmayer said. “We’ll have additional people in place to accommodate the pre- and post-Thanksgiving rush.”

Bus and rail service will run on a Sunday schedule, with service returning to normal for “Black Friday.”

The weather is expected to cooperate – to a point.

The forecast calls for dry, warmer days through Thursday, with temperatures in the 50s. But on Friday night, shoppers may have more to brave than just the competition if a predicted cold front moves in. There’s a possibility of rain showers mixing with or tuning into snow showers, according to Tom Paone, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Temperatures are expected to drop into the upper 30s Saturday and Sunday, with Saturday having a chance of snow showers.

That spells good timing for Sean and Jennifer Crotty and their two children, Lexi and Brandon. They are catching an excursion bus at 10 tonight from West Seneca to New York City to watch the Macy’s Day Parade Thanksgiving morning with friends from Rochester, before returning later the following day.

“It will be a mad rush, and then we get back in time for Black Friday shopping,” joked Sean Crotty, a dispatcher for the Town of Hamburg.

The Crottys are among the 45 percent of families expected to depart today, according to AAA of Western and Central New York. They’re also an exception, because some 90 percent of travelers are expected to drive to their destinations.

The Crottys won’t be able to eat a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. Instead, they’re having one at each grandparents’ house on different days.

“I think it’s representative of our lifestyle. It’s not the typical Ward and June Cleaver Thanksgiving,” Crotty said.

Another factor to consider will be shoppers headed here from Canada to partake of the start of Christmas shopping season. Travelers going to and from Canada may want to find out current border traffic conditions by calling the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission’s toll-free number at 800-715-6722.

Those staying put will want to load up early at grocery stores and arrive well before showtime at movie theaters, where Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally one of the busiest of the year.

Several major movies opened Friday or open this week, among them “Lincoln,” “The Sessions,” The Rise of the Guardians,” ”The Life of PI” and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” which had the eighth biggest box office opening ever last weekend. “If you want to buy tickets, go early,” advised Brian Spokane, vice president of Dipson Theatres.

“Go early” is good advice the rest of the week, no matter where you’re headed.