CHICAGO AREA, IL – Traffic congestion on Chicago-area freeways is expected to peak Thursday afternoon as drivers hit the road for Memorial Day weekend, according to the Annual Weekend Travel Forecast for the AAA Memorial Day.
Interstate 290 and IL-110 to Racine Avenue in Chicago will be busiest between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Thursday. During this period, traffic volumes will be 131% higher than normal, according to AAA.
Nationally, the number of cars on the roads is expected to rise 8.3% from last Memorial Day weekend. Even as gasoline prices soar over $5 a gallon in some parts of the country, 39.2 million people plan to drive more than 50 miles.
“Even with a significant increase in gas prices, we expect a big increase in vacation driving over the past few years,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst for INRIX. “Drivers should expect traffic jams on major roads around major cities and popular destinations. Knowing when and where traffic jams will develop can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”
Here are the worst and best daily times to travel during Memorial Day weekend:
|Date||The worst time to travel||Best time to travel|
|Thusday||1 p.m. to 8 p.m.||Before 6 a.m. or after 9 p.m.|
|Friday||12 p.m. to 7 p.m.||Before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m.|
|Saturday||1 p.m. to 6 p.m.||Before 10 a.m.|
|Sunday||1 p.m. to 4 p.m.||Before 10 a.m.|
|Monday||1 p.m. to 4 p.m.||Before 11 a.m.|
Air travel increased by 25%
Airports will also be packed this Memorial Day weekend, as 25% more people plan to fly to their destinations this year. This will make it the second largest increase in air travel over Memorial Day weekend since 2010, with 3 million people planning to fly.
“Memorial Day is always a strong predictor of what’s to come for summer travel,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “Based on our projections, summer travel isn’t just heating up, it’s going to be on fire. People are overdue for a vacation and they’re looking to catch up in the months ahead.”
Twidale recommends that those traveling by air purchase travel insurance or work with a travel agent as airlines continue to face several challenges that could impact travel plans.
“With the kind of volume we anticipate, we continue to recommend the safety net of a travel agent and travel insurance. Both are a lifesaver if something unexpectedly derails your travel plans. “, said Twidale.
Travel levels increase to pre-pandemic levels
Memorial Day weekend trips are expected to be the busiest in two years, building on an upward trend that began earlier this spring. This year’s forecast marks the second-largest single-year increase in travelers since 2010 (2021 was the highest), bringing volumes back almost to pre-pandemic levels.
Despite historic gasoline prices, which topped the $4 mark in early March, 34.9 million people plan to travel by car, up 4.6% from a year ago, according to AAA.
Like On Tuesday morning, the average statewide gasoline price in Illinois was $4.973, but prices in the Chicago metro area were much higher at $5.19 a gallon. In Cook County, the average price was $5.270 a gallon for regular gasoline, and in the city of Chicago it hit $5.39 on Tuesday, according to AAA.
Meanwhile, the share of trips by car has risen from 92.1% last year to 88.9% this year, a slight indication that higher prices at the pump are impacting how people choose to travel this Memorial Day, according to AAA.
With more people planning to travel this summer, AAA recommends booking flights, car rentals, cruises, hotels and more as soon as possible. Finding last minute deals is “unlikely” and availability is filling up. Here’s a look at what to expect for travel costs this summer:
- The lowest average airfare this Memorial Day weekend is 6% higher than last year at around $184 per ticket, with Saturday being the most expensive day to fly and Monday the cheapest.
- Rates for midscale hotels have increased by approximately 42%, with the lowest average rates per night ranging from $199 to $257 per night for AAA-rated hotels.
- Daily car rental rates are down 16% from a year ago, with the lowest average rate being $100 per day.
Preparing for your trip, restrictions related to COVID-19
For the 34.9 million Americans who hit the road, it’s a good idea to prepare your vehicle for the trip with a complete vehicle inspection.
AAA expects to respond to more than 425,000 calls for help over Memorial Day weekend. People traveling should have key car components checked, including the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels, and should also ensure that the emergency kit of your vehicle is well supplied.
And while most COVID-19 restrictions have eased, it’s important to keep your safety and the safety of others in mind. For those looking to take a few extra precautions, AAA recommends:
- Traveling with your bubble: This type of travel became popular during the pandemic when many chose to vacation with people they were in close contact with. Consider going on a group trip to spread out the costs for things like activities and accommodation. If everyone is dispersed, a travel agent can help manage the logistics.
- When booking accommodation, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. In 2021, AAA enhanced its housekeeping rating to include objective scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces in all hotels. Hotels that meet these new standards are now recognized as Inspected Clean. Search for this designation or to browse all AAA Diamond properties, click here.
- Everything from airports to restaurants to attractions will be busier this Memorial Day, which means more people are gathering. AAA advises travelers to follow CDC guidelines, which at this time still recommend people wear masks on indoor public transportation (airports, bus/train terminals, public transportation like subways/subways, airplanes, trains and bus).
You can read more about how AAA determines its forecasting methodology for travel volumes here.