NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A surge in Fourth of July travel is expected this weekend compared to last year's slump, driven by signs of life in the economy, according to the motorist group AAA. But the impact of the Gulf oil spill on coastal tourism in the region is unclear.
AAA projects that 34.9 million Americans will travel 100 miles or more during the Independence Day weekend, a jump of 17.1% from last year's 29.8 million travelers.
"The unusually weak Fourth of July travel performance in 2009, the sustained economic recovery and substantially improved travel sentiment all suggest that Fourth of July travel will enjoy a large increase this year," the travel group said in a statement.
Last year, the weak economy sent travel down more than 20% during the Independence Day weekend, to 29.8 million travelers from 37.8 million in 2008. AAA described this decline as "much larger" than originally anticipated. For 2010, the travel group expects travel volume to pull itself out of last year's trough.
"We now know that overall travel began to recover in the fourth quarter of 2009," said AAA.
Driving will be the largest component of this, with 31.4 million Americans expected to travel by automobile, a 17.7% increase over last year, said AAA. Gas prices, averaging about $2.75 per gallon nationwide on Friday, are similar to last year but cheaper than the $4 average of 2008, the group added.
AAA added one caveat: the impact on travel volume from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is difficult to gauge.
"As oil continues to spill into the Gulf and the associated economic and environmental costs rise, those who have planned trips to beaches in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and West Florida are anxious about arriving at a clean beach," said AAA. "It is difficult to estimate the number of cancellations that will occur or the decrease in travel due to the oil spill during the Fourth of July weekend.
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