Thanksgiving forecast: Roads will be jammed with travelers

James M.’s family of four is planning a road trip from just outside Dallas, TX, to Springfield, MO, for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Their route this year will be about 500 miles and take almost eight hours under normal conditions.

But Thanksgiving travel isn’t normal, and James expects to be “one of a billion cars” on the road, even with a Tuesday departure and Saturday return. In fact, around 49.3 million Americans – one in every 6.5 – will take road trips of 50 miles or more from home for the long weekend.

Thanksgiving travel family
Nearly 50 million Americans have Thanksgiving travel plans.

That’s about a 3 percent increase in Thanksgiving travel over last year, according to a report from AAA, making roads more crowded than any time since 2005.

And that doesn’t count all the traffic for holiday road trips closer to home or via planes, trains and boats.

Fortunately for James and family, they will be traveling mostly interstate highways through cities no larger than Fort Smith and Fayetteville, AR, and Joplin, MO, on the way to his parents’ home.

Because travel times in or through the most congested U.S. cities – Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Houston, San Francisco, Washington, Seattle, Detroit and Chicago – could be more than two to almost four times longer than normal based on a forecast by INRIX mobility analytics company.

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“With record levels of travelers and persistent population growth in the country’s major metropolitan areas, drivers must prepare for major delays,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week.”

The best days to travel typically are Thanksgiving Day, Friday or Saturday, according to AAA.

“Millions of thankful Americans are starting the holiday season off with a Thanksgiving getaway,” said Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel, in a report on the upcoming holiday.

“Strong economic fundamentals are motivating Americans to venture out this holiday in near-record numbers,” she said. “Consumer spending remains strong, thanks to increasing wages, disposable income and household wealth, and travel remains one of their top priorities for the holiday season.”

With all that traveling, it probably should come as no surprise that AAA expects to rescue nearly 370,000 motorists roadside this Thanksgiving, with dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires the big reasons.

James doesn’t want to be among them.

“We’ve had our vehicle’s battery checked. We checked the pressure in all four tires and inflated to the recommended PSI. We’ll have an extra set of keys. And have a can of fix-a-flat in the trunk,” he said. “Oil and other fluids have been checked, and our gas stop is planned.”

In other words, James has done “everything we can to keep our road trip from turning into a turkey.”

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