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The best times to drive for Thanksgiving

Here are the best routes and days to avoid traffic ahead of Turkey Day

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

Nearly 49 million people plan to hit the road for Thanksgiving this year, meaning highways will be crowded if you don’t time your trip correctly, according to a projection released by AAA on Tuesday.

“Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel. “Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you’re driving or flying.”

Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest holidays for road trips over 50 miles. This year, car travel is projected to be 0.4 percent higher than 2021, though still 2.5 percent below pre-pandemic levels in 2019, according to AAA.

Here’s what to know before getting in the car before Thanksgiving.

When should I fly or drive this holiday season? Send Post reporter your travel questions.

Best and worst times to drive

The best time to hit the road Thanksgiving week is Monday at 8 p.m. local time, according to Google, which examined its Maps data from last Thanksgiving in more than 20 major U.S. cities.

The worst traffic is expected when Thanksgiving drivers overlap with the regular evening commute on Tuesday and Wednesday, around 4 to 5 p.m. local time, per Google.

With many people unable to leave work and school until Wednesday, INRIX, a transportation analytics firm, partnered with AAA to provide congestion projections for the peak parts of Thanksgiving week.

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INRIX also expects traffic to peak nationally on Wednesday afternoon. If you need to travel Wednesday, leave before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m., the company recommends.

For those traveling by road on Turkey Day itself, the worst congestion will be from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to INRIX, so try to drive in the morning or after 6 p.m.

Traffic on the return trip should offer more flexibility, though Black Friday shopping could clog some roads, especially between noon and 4 p.m. on Friday, according to Google. Avoid driving between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to INRIX.

The firm recommends leaving before 11 a.m. if you’re driving on Friday or Sunday, and before 2 p.m. on Saturday. Alternatively, the roads will probably be more open after 8 p.m. on any of the three days.

Where to expect the worst traffic

The nation’s largest metro areas, especially New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta, will probably see significant increases over typical congestion, according to INRIX.

“Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the holiday weekend,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX.

At peak Wednesday afternoon, New York City will see a 158 percent increase above typical traffic, Los Angeles 144 percent and Atlanta 105 percent. Traffic in those cities, along with Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco and Seattle, will peak Wednesday afternoon.

The only city tracked by INRIX where traffic will peak on a day other than Wednesday is D.C. Congestion in the nation’s capital is expected to be at its worst between 11:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. on Sunday, especially on the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95 to Route 123.

INRIX also tracked the individual highways across the country that are expected to see the biggest increases in traffic over a typical week. In New York, stay off I-278 south, where traffic will be 158 percent worse than normal. In L.A., avoid I-5 south and I-405 south, where traffic will be up 144 percent and 106 percent, respectively. Atlanta residents should avoid I-85 south, which will see 105 percent more traffic than usual.

A full list of expected traffic by corridor can be found here.

How much to budget for gas

One area where drivers should see some relief over last year: at the pump.

The national average for gas is $3.77 as of Monday, which is up 36 cents from a year ago and down 13 cents from a month ago, according to AAA. It’s also well below the $5-a-gallon peak that drivers were paying in June, thanks to steadying oil prices.

How to save on road trips

“There are now about 13 states with some stations selling gas below $3 a gallon,” said Andrew Gross, a AAA spokesperson. “More gas stations could follow, which may be a big help with road-trip budgeting as Thanksgiving approaches.”

The cheapest gas can be found in the South, especially Texas and Georgia, where average prices are below $3.20 per gallon. The Midwest saw the largest drop in prices over the past week, with Wisconsin gas prices falling 25 cents on average.

To budget for your road trip, AAA recommends its TripTik travel planner, which shows current gas prices along your route, as well as hotels, restaurants and attractions.

correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the national average for gas is down 36 cents from a year ago. It is up 36 cents. This version has been corrected.

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