Sunday, December 3, 2023

Where and when should I avoid traveling on Thanksgiving weekend in Wisconsin?

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Are you ready to hit the road? Hop on a flight? You aren’t alone as Thanksgiving travelers from all over Wisconsin begin their treks around the state and country.

Tens of millions of people are projected to travel this year for the holiday weekend, meaning congested roads and airports.

For those traveling and hoping to avoid some of the chaos holiday travel brings, here’s what you need to know.

How many Wisconsinites are expected to travel for Thanksgiving?

More than 1.1 million Wisconsinites will be traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, according to AAA data. That is an expected 25,672, or 2.4%, more holiday travelers than last year and the third highest total ever recorded.

How many people are traveling for Thanksgiving in the United States?

Roughly 55.4 million travelers are projected to head 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, according to AAA data. That’s the third highest projected total since AAA started tracking in 2000.

The numbers are broken down by 49.13 million people traveling by automobile, 4.69 million traveling by air and 1.55 million using some other form of transportation.

When are the busiest times on the roads in Wisconsin this time of year?

Wednesday will be the busiest day on the roads during Thanksgiving weekend, according to projections from INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights. Average travel times are 80% longer than normal in some metro areas.

INRIX recommends leaving in the morning or after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest traffic times.

“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways. Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help minimize holiday traffic frustrations. We advise drivers to use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services for real-time updates.”

INRIX projects these as the worst times to drive:

  • Wednesday, Nov. 22: 2 to 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, Nov. 23: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Friday, Nov. 24: 12 to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, Nov. 25: 3 to 5 p.m.
  • Sunday, Nov. 26: 3 to 5 p.m.

INRIX projects these as the best times to drive:

  • Wednesday, Nov. 22: before 11 a.m.
  • Thursday, Nov. 23: Before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
  • Friday, Nov. 24: Before 11 a.m. and after 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, Nov. 25: Before noon
  • Sunday, Nov. 26: Before noon

Where are the busiest places on the road?

Many metro areas will see higher volumes of traffic and more congestion, according to AAA. The areas of note around Wisconsin are near Chicago and Minneapolis.

For Chicago, the busiest projected time between there and Milwaukee will be Wednesday, Nov. 22, around 4 p.m. The average travel time between the two destinations at that time is expected to be 18% slower than normal

For Minneapolis, the worst time projected to travel around the city will be Friday, Nov. 24, around 5:30 p.m. The average travel time between there and Rochester, Minnesota, at that time is expected to be 15% slower than normal.

What are gas prices looking like for Thanksgiving weekend?

Gas prices appear to be down from last year for the travel weekend, according to AAA. In 2022, the average price of gas was $3.58 per gallon nationally and $3.23 in Wisconsin. So far in November, Wisconsin gas prices have averaged $3.14 per gallon and have been falling. AAA believes gas prices should remain low through the holiday season unless oil prices suddenly spike.

More: More Americans will hit the road during Thanksgiving as gas prices drop, according to a nationwide survey

What are the busiest flying days for Thanksgiving weekend?

According to AAA, Tuesday and Wednesday are the busiest air travel days ahead of the holiday and also the most expensive. Sunday is the busiest day for return flights, though Monday has also become a popular day to return.

Does AAA have any tips for drivers during the hectic Thanksgiving travel period?

AAA recommends:

  • Get a full vehicle inspection before setting out on your trip.
  • Leave early and allow extra time to get to your destination, so you are not in a rush.
  • Identify alternate routes in case you encounter congestion or road closures.
  • Avoid distractions while driving. Program your GPS before your drive.
  • Ensure everyone in the vehicle wears their seatbelt.

Drew Dawson can be reached at or 262-289-1324.

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