To Avoid Thanksgiving Traffic, Steer Clear of These Days, Times and Places

Record traffic congestion is expected this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. 

Imaginechina via AP Images

A mix of commuters and holiday travelers could turn already-congested areas into nightmarish traffic scenarios during the coming holiday week, which will bring the biggest travel volume in a dozen years.

That's according to AAA and transportation analytics company Inrix, which expect nearly 51 million Americans to travel at least 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving, up 3.3 percent from last year, with 1.6 million more Americans taking to the nation's roads, skies, rails and waterways than in 2016.

Drivers will face the greatest amount of congestion during the early evening, starting as soon as Tuesday of next week, as commuters tangle with those getting on the road for Thanksgiving, according to AAA and Inrix.

Travel times in the most congested U.S. cities could be run as much as three times longer than the optimal trip during the Thanksgiving holiday period, which runs from Wednesday, Nov. 22, to Sunday, Nov. 26.

For instance, at peak travel times, drivers on Chicago’s interstates will take three times longer than their optimal trip duration.

“Thanksgiving has historically been one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year we could see record-level travel delays,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at Inrix. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”

Tuesday, starting after 3 p.m., will be the worst time for traveling in many major cities, while I-5 S at Valley View Avenue will be the worst location for congestion, according to AAA and Inrix.

Bill Sutherland, senior vice president of travel and publishing at AAA, in a statement credited "a strong economy and labor market" for bolstering consumer sentiment and a willingness to spend time and money traveling.

Another possible factor, the travel group said, is less expensive airfares, which on average are the cheapest since 2013. 

The largest growth in holiday travel comes by air, at 5 percent, with 3.95 million travelers expected to fly over the long Thanksgiving weekend. The number of those planning to travel by trains, buses and even cruises is expected to rise 1.1 percent to 1.48 million travelers.

Nearly 90 percent of all travelers, or 45.5 million, are planning a Thanksgiving road trip, up 3.2 percent from last year. The increase comes even as motorists face the highest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2014. This November’s national average price for a gallon of gas is $2.54, which is 37 cents more than last November.

Those renting cars will also take a financial hit, with daily rental rates hitting a five-year holiday high at $70 a day, which could be due to increased domestic demand and the cost of newer vehicles.

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