Holiday travel 2021: Busiest day on roads ahead as travelers leave for Thanksgiving

AAA says peak hours for congestion for Chicago area drivers are Wednesday afternoon and evening from noon until 8 p.m.

Thursday, November 25, 2021
Busiest day on Chicago roads ahead as travelers leave for Thanksgiving
Over 48 million people are expected to drive to their destination this Thanksgiving holiday, and gas prices are up.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Wednesday is expected to be the busiest day on the roads as people head out to spend Thanksgiving with families.

But getting to your destination isn't going to be cheap.

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Sarah Heiderscheidt braved the highways from Milwaukee to make it home to Hanover Park to celebrate Thanksgiving. She even brought a friend along for company.

"He was a great traveler. Sits in the passenger seat and chills out. Did really well," she said.

According to AAA, Heiderscheidt joined nearly 50 million others across the country driving on the roads this Thanksgiving-eve. They said, despite surging gas prices, 90% of those traveling for the holiday are driving.

In Illinois, about 2.7 million people are expected to travel for Thanksgiving, with the vast majority of them planning to drive, as well.

"Last year, out of caution, many people chose not to travel. This year, they're feeling more optimistic and want to celebrate Thanksgiving," said Molly Hart with AAA.

AAA said the peak hours for congestion for Chicago area drivers are Wednesday afternoon and evening from noon until 8 p.m.

By early afternoon on the outbound Kennedy Expressway, in the direction of Rockford or Wisconsin, travel times were already skyrocketing.

Coming from Wisconsin, however, Heiderscheidt said traffic was not so bad, and her parents are grateful for that.

"In Milwaukee, there was a little traffic but after that it was fine," Heiderscheidt said.

"You always worry, as a parent, when kids travel on their own. But we're happy she's safe," added her mother, Susan.

Even with high gas prices, people are figuring out a way to fill up and go.

However, help is on the way as President Joe Biden announced the release of 50 million barrels of emergency oil reserves.

Although, relief could take weeks.

"We should see some down-drafts at the pump just in time for, potentially, Christmas, but prices are still going to be well into that $3-a-gallon territory, where it's quite uncomfortable," said Patrick De Haan, with GasBuddy.

Driving somewhere for Thanksgiving? Prepare to pay at the pump.

In the Chicago area, the average price of regular unleaded is $3.57 a gallon, compared to Thanksgiving week last year, when it was $2.17 a gallon.

"Just drove back from Tennessee, picking up my daughter for college because she's off for Thanksgiving break. Oh my God, I probably filled up and spent over about $100 just in gas; so gas prices are really up there," driver Monique Frierson said.

"It's killing me. When I bought my car in 2018 I could fill it up for $50. I put $40 in the other day and it barely filled it halfway," said another traveler.

Travel experts report travel this year will be nearly triple the volume of last year, so plan accordingly: Have a winter kit, get real-time road conditions and have a plan for roadside assistance if you need it.

Nine million vehicles are expected to use the tollway system this Thanksgiving holiday and 1.8 million vehicles are projected to use Interstate 294 alone.

To help ease traffic headaches, all tollway construction will be restricted from noon Wednesday until Monday at 9 a.m.

O'Hare airport was busy Wednesday morning, too. TSA said it screened more than two million passengers Tuesday.