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Thanksgiving Travel Forecast: Utah’s roads and airports will be busy ‘ Utah

This holiday season is said to be “one of the busiest in recent history,” according to the AAA, as air and ground travel gradually return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

The association released its annual vacation travel outlook last week and forecast that 55 million Americans will either fly or drive to a Thanksgiving holiday destination this year. This includes 49 million who travel by car and about another 4.5 million who fly on vacation. If the prospects hold true, that would be a 1.5% year-over-year increase and about 98% of 2019 holiday travel figures.

“The upcoming vacation is expected to be one of the busiest in the past two decades,” Brian Ng, AAA Utah’s senior vice president of membership and travel marketing, said in a statement.

Wednesday is expected to be the busiest day on roads in Utah and the United States. And although a small storm is set to sweep through Utah on Wednesday morning, the weather is not expected to play a major role in travel to Utah this week.

UDOT forecast heavy traffic Wednesday, Sunday

The Utah Department of Transportation estimates that Wednesday afternoon and early evening are the busiest times to travel, particularly on I-15. Drivers should expect:

  • Delays of up to 15 minutes on I-15 southbound in Salt Lake County from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m
  • Delays of up to 10 minutes on I-15 northbound in Davis County from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m
  • Delays of up to 10 minutes on I-15 southbound near Nephi from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m

Although post-Thanksgiving travel is expected to extend over the following long weekend, UDOT is also forecasting delays of up to 20 minutes near Cedar City on northbound I-15 from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Black Friday shopping can also lead to busy streets, especially near malls and retail centers, the agency advises.

UDOT spokesman John Gleason said the agency will suspend all construction to open as many lanes as possible, as has been the case for other major travel holidays. However, there are some signs of construction that may affect some lanes.

  • I-80 and I-215 in eastern Salt Lake County: The lanes will be moved between 1300 East and 2300 East on I-80 and between 3300 South and 4500 South on I-215 because of the ongoing road surface improvement project for both freeways.
  • I-80 near the I-84 interchange: Westbound I-80 will be reduced to one lane near Echo Reservoir as crews replace the driving surface on the bridges over Echo Dam Road. The project will continue through early December, according to UDOT, before pausing for the winter.
  • I-70 near the I-15 interchange: The freeway will be reduced to one lane in each direction between Cove Fort and the I-15 interchange as crews replace the driving surface and barrier walls on the I-70 bridge over I-15.

For those who rely on public transit, the Utah Transit Authority will operate its normal schedule on Wednesday. There is no service on Thanksgiving Day Thursdayhowever, and the agency will run on Friday according to its Saturday schedule.

Gas prices down across Utah

Those taking to the streets will notice significantly lower gasoline prices from the summer holiday travel season, although prices remain a little over a quarter a gallon higher than last Thanksgiving.

Andrew Gross, a spokesman for AAA, says the national average is also falling as total gas demand fell to 8.74 million barrels from 9.01 million barrels last week, even as domestic gasoline stocks rose significantly. Growing supply mixed with lower demand is driving the national average down. The organization listed the national average at $3.63 a gallon Tuesday, 3 cents cheaper than Monday and 19 cents cheaper than a month ago.

“This Thanksgiving will be about 20 cents higher than a year ago and a dollar higher per gallon than in pre-pandemic 2019,” Gross said in a statement Monday. “However, we can be grateful that gas prices are moving in the right direction for the time being.”

According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Utah has finally fallen below $4 a gallon and fell to an average of $3.97 statewide on Tuesday. Gas prices are generally cheaper this week along the Wasatch Front and in central Utah, while higher in southern Utah and parts of northeastern Utah.

Gas is cheapest in Sevier County ($3.75 per gallon), followed by Carbon ($3.80), Box Elder ($3.83), Emery ($3.84), Juab and Weber (3 each, $85). In Piute County, it still remains around $4.70 a gallon, which is the most expensive price in the state, according to AAA data.

Salt Lake City Airport prepares for large crowds

Meanwhile, many Americans will take to the skies to travel this week. The projected 4.5 million flights for holidays represent an 8% increase over the previous year.

That means an estimated 30,000 travelers will pass through the front doors of Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday alone — in addition to an unknown number of people catching connecting flights at the airport. Nancy Volmer, spokeswoman for the airport, said the biggest rushes are expected on Wednesday from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

This could create parking problems as the airport ran out of parking spaces during the 2021 autumn break when almost 30,000 passengers passed through the airport this weekend. To counteract this, airport officials advise travelers to reserve their parking space in advance or use UTA’s TRAX service, which drives to the airport.

Backup parking lots can also be opened when the economy lot fills up, airport officials say. They add that travelers should plan ahead and know what is allowed through security lines and what can be carried on a plane as carry-on baggage to avoid line congestion.

Sunday is also a busy day at the airport as people either return to Utah or return home after visiting the Beehive State. Volmer said another 30,000 passengers are expected to come through the airport’s front doors on the final day of the long weekend.