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AAA Thanksgiving prediction: Delays on roads, at airports

A view of traffic on the Southern State

A view of traffic on the Southern State Parkway in Merrick, early Tuesday evening, Nov. 22, 2016. AAA projects about 48.7 million people are expected to take to the skies and hit the road this Thanksgiving holiday, making it the busiest travel season in nearly a decade. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Thanksgiving travel in New York will near an 11-year record, and Long Island drivers who lack E-Z Passes will face some of the longest delays, according to AAA Northeast.

The Port Authority in a statement warned anyone flying to arrive early, predicting 1.6 million people will use its airports, up 100,000 from last year.

The three Metropolitan Transportation Authority bridges that Long Islanders are most likely to use saw cash tolls on Thanksgiving Day 2015 soar 47 percent on the Whitestone, 51 percent on the Throgs Neck and 70 percent on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, said Alec Slatky, a policy analyst with the auto club.

“That causes big delays in the cash lanes” from an average Thursday, he said.

In contrast, the percent of people who used E-Z Passes only rose 5 percent on the Verrazano, 1 percent on the Whitestone and 10 percent on the Throgs Neck, according to Slatky’s analysis of MTA data.

E-Z Passes are sold by various retailers, including the AAA and at customer service sites.

One reason holiday traffic could be worse than last year is the still low gas prices — about $2.38 a gallon, Slatky said. That is up just about a nickel from last year — but down about 85 cents from two years ago, he noted.

The stronger economy also should boost holiday travel, exerts said, perhaps disproving pundits who predicted post-Election Day tensions might keep families apart.

This year, 2.7 million New Yorkers will drive to Thanksgiving dinner, about 38,000 more than last year, and nearly as many as the record of 2.9 million set in 2005, Slatky said.

Any drivers who have not already left should consider waiting until early Thursday because Wednesday almost always has the worst traffic, experts said.

“If you have to leave on Wednesday, your best bet is to hit the road at 6 a.m. and avoid driving around 3 p.m.,” Google Maps said in a statement. WAZE, another Google app, in a statement agreed that Wednesday travel should be avoided.

For the trip home, Friday drivers fare best, according to Google.

“Your best bet is to hit the road at 6 a.m.,” it said, but don’t drive around 2 p.m. when traffic likely will peak.

Unlike Google, WAZE picked Monday as the easiest day to return.

People who rely on the Long Island Rail Road to escape Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon will get the benefit of 12 extra trains scheduled to leave Penn Station between 12:42 p.m. and 4:06 p.m., the MTA said in a statement.

Extra trains also will be run from Thursday through Sunday, and that four-day period includes another perk: lower, off-peak fares, even on Black Friday, when the regular, weekday schedule resumes, the MTA said.

Over the four-day holiday, a special $1 fare applies for up to four children ages 5 to 11, as long as tickets are bought before boarding. As always, younger children ride for free.

Possibly, the construction at La Guardia that has snarled parking might cause people to choose other airports or ways of traveling.

La Guardia should see 343,800 fliers, 75,000 less than last year, the bi-state agency predicted. In contrast, Kennedy Airport will handle about 73,000 more travelers, for a total of 717,700, it said.

During Thanksgiving week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a statement said the state will crack down on impaired, distracted or underage drivers.

A statement from Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said the police will conduct anti-drunken driving and “anti-terror” patrols for “shopping areas, critical infrastructure, houses of worship and mass gathering throughout the weekend.”

Similarly, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini in a statement said there will be “stepped-up” patrols to catch distracted, drunk or unseatbelted drivers.

“The department will also have officers in both uniform and plainclothes on patrol at retail centers and in downtown shopping areas,” his statement added.

Drivers on state roads and bridges will get one boon. Lanes that are temporarily closed on state roads and bridges for construction instead will remain open from 6 a.m. on Wednesday until 6 a.m. on Monday, Cuomo said.


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