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Americans hit highway home after holiday

MORTON, W.Va. -- Heading north on the West Virginia Turnpike Sunday evening, travelers could observe a steady stream of headlights going south. Cars congested the roadway, slowing traffic around the southbound tolls.

Signs flashed bright orange advice to holiday weekend drivers: "Heavy traffic Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Plan travel to avoid congestion."

About 43 million Americans traveled more than 50 miles for Thanksgiving, with 37 percent of them beginning their trips the Wednesday before, according to the AAA.

Tabitha Hayes, of Columbus, Ohio, said she didn't encounter many problems Wednesday, as she drove to Fort Bragg, N.C. with her husband and granddaughter. The return trip on Sunday was a different story, Hayes said as she checked in at the Morton Travel Plaza.

"It's been a lot of traffic," she said.

There were no real time constraints for the 8-hour trip, Hayes said. The three travelers just need to be home in time for her husband to get to work at 5 a.m., she said with a chuckle.

Wednesday, which was expected to be the busiest travel day of the year, wasn't so kind to Randy Hunter and Debbie Simko, of the Pittsburgh, Pa., area.

"Too long," Simko said when asked how long it took the couple, along with granddaughter Elyssa Hunter, to get to Bluffton, S.C.

An 11-hour trip turned into 14 as the three hit traffic off and on, Randy Hunter said.

"[It was] just volume," Randy Hunter said. "We got nailed about three different times. It would go, slow down and stop. Go, slow down and stop."

Mike Bragg, who works at the visitor center at Morton, said he expected they would see at least 300 people throughout Sunday.

"It picked up really early," Bragg said. "I came in at 8 [this morning], and there were already some cars."

Melissa Windell, also of Columbus, Ohio, stopped to chat while walking a spunky dog named Trio. The two were headed home from one of many trips to Raleigh, N.C., where Windell's brother lives.

"We've hit some traffic on the way back today up by Wytheville, [Va.], but it's not been too backed up," Windell said. "Maybe an extra hour of time at the most."

Windell and Trio have been traveling together since Trio was a puppy, she said. The friendly canine does well, but Windell said she can tell when Trio "gets itchy" to have a stretch.

"A lot of people travel with their dogs nowadays, and a lot of these places have their pet walk areas, which makes it easier," Windell said of the rest area.

Despite the holiday travel being slow-going, drivers said there are highlights along their routes, some of which are in West Virginia.

"Just seeing the mountains and the hills, hearing everybody say, 'y'all,'" is a nice change of pace, Hayes said. She has relatives in both Parkersburg and Charleston.

"I love it," she said.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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