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AAA: Record number of travelers this Thanksgiving week

Traffic on the Grand Central Parkway outside LaGuardia

Traffic on the Grand Central Parkway outside LaGuardia Airport in Queens on Monday. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Settle in, kids. It's going to be a long ride. 

More than 54 million Americans will hit the roads, rails and skies this holiday week — the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since a record was set in 2005, according to AAA Northeast. And most New Yorkers plan to get a head start, with the highest numbers leaving after work Tuesday evening. 

The transportation nonprofit estimates a 4.8 percent increase from last year among Americans journeying more than 50 miles from home to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Higher wages, more disposable income and rising levels of household wealth are fueling a busy holiday travel week,” said AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr.

The vast majority of commuters, an estimated 48.5 million Americans, will travel by automobile, a nearly 5 percent uptick from 2017, according to INRIX, a global traffic data and analytics firm.

And with millions of additional vehicles comes even more traffic, especially for those looking to flee the Big Apple.

Drivers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut should anticipate a gridlock nightmare, particularly between 6 and 8 p.m. on Tuesday, as commuters look to beat the rush for the extended holiday weekend, INRIX said. 

"A lot of people are increasingly combining their vacation days with the time they already have off to leave for their travels on Tuesday," Sinclair said.

Travel times in some congested spots, including the westbound 495 viaduct from the Lincoln Tunnel to the southbound New Jersey Turnpike, are expected to have delays 3 1/2 times more than normal with an average speed of two — yes two — mph, INRIX found. 

Other problem areas include the Belt Parkway, with estimated speeds Tuesday evening of 12 mph, and the Garden State, Hutchinson River and Merritt parkways, according to INRIX data.

To avoid the traffic, AAA suggests traveling on Thanksgiving Day, Friday or Saturday.

And brace yourself for a painful trip home. Most travelers will be returning on Sunday, AAA said.

 In an effort to minimize traffic congestion, temporary lane closures for road and bridge construction projects on state highways will be suspended beginning 6 a.m. Wednesday through 6 a.m. Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.  

Motorists can also expect to pay more at the pump this year. The national average gas price is $2.74 per gallon, more than 21 cents higher than in 2017 and the highest total in four years, AAA said.

But the group says motorists, accustomed to higher-priced gasoline and reaping the benefits of a growing economy, are unlikely to let the cost of fuel change their travel plans.

"People have extra money in their pockets and they are willing to spend it," Sinclair said.

While gas prices have dipped in the past month, Long Islanders are still paying an average of $2.89 per gallon — a quarter more than last year. But it could be worse. The price for a gallon of unleaded is $2.99 in New York City and $2.94 in Connecticut, AAA found.

The largest growth in holiday travel will be by air, with an estimated 4.27 million — a 5.4 percent increase from last year — flying to their holiday destination. Top destinations include Orlando, Florida; Anaheim, California; Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic, and Las Vegas.

"This upcoming season will be very busy as more passengers choose to fly," said Transportation Security Administration Administrator David Pekoske.

On Wednesday, 2.6 million passengers and crew are expected to pass through airports nationwide with more than 2.7 million predicted to travel Sunday, the TSA said.

LaGuardia Airport, undergoing a massive renovation construction project, sent an alert Thursday advising travelers to be aware of the peak holiday season. "Leave extra time and book parking in advance or consider other means of transportation when traveling to #LGA," the Port Authority said.

And not surprisingly, traveling to area airports will be no holiday.

For example, drivers heading down the Long Island Expressway from downtown Manhattan to Kennedy Airport can expect a nearly 80-minute commute between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, AAA said. Only a trip to O’Hare Airport from downtown Chicago will take longer, the group found.

The Long Island Rail Road will accommodate the increase in customers during the holiday by providing additional train service, with off-peak ticket pricing for the four-day holiday beginning Thanksgiving Day, the MTA announced Monday.

Starting Wednesday evening, the LIRR will have a dozen extra afternoon eastbound trains to handle the rush of customers racing home to start the holiday weekend. On Thanksgiving, extra trains will be available to get customers into the city for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and to get home after the festivities. On Black Friday, Nov. 23, the LIRR will run a regular weekday schedule to accommodate the expected hordes of shoppers headed into Manhattan for discounts and deals. And the railroad will provide extra service this weekend to meet the holiday season demand.

Thanksgiving travel

  • 54.3 million Americans: expected to travel this Thanksgiving holiday more than 50 miles from home, a 4.8 percent increase from 2017 and the most since 2005;
  • 48.5 million Americans: expected to drive to their holiday destination, a 4.9 percent increase from last year;
  • 4.27 million Americans: expected to fly to their Thanksgiving gathering, a 5.4 percent uptick from 2017
  • 1.48 million Americans: expected to travel by bus, train or cruise to their holiday location, a 1.4 increase from last year
  • Two miles per hour: the average speed of motorists traveling from the westbound 495 viaduct from the Lincoln Tunnel to the southbound New Jersey Turnpike on Tuesday from 6-8 p.m.
  • 12 miles per hour: the average speed of motorists on the east and westbound Belt Parkway Tuesday from 6-8 p.m.
  • One hour, 19 minutes: estimated time to get from downtown Manhattan to Kennedy Airport via the Long Island Expressway, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday
  • $2.89: the average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline on Long Island, a quarter more than 2017
  • 947,754: the number of cars registered in Nassau County in 2017, a 4.6 percent increase from 2012
  • 1,135,036: the number of cars registered in Suffolk County in 2017, a 5.1 percent increase from 2012, and the most of any county statewide
  • 360,000: estimated number of motorists expected to need roadside assistance this Thanksgiving holiday
  • More than 100,000: volume of passengers and crew coming through checkpoints at Kennedy Airport in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.
  • Roughly 48,000: volume of passengers and crew coming through checkpoints at LaGuardia Airport in the days leading up to Thanksgiving
  • 2.7 million Americans: expected to fly home on Sunday, Nov. 25

Source: AAA Northeast, Transportation Security Administration


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