Travelers urged to be patient, courteous during Thanksgiving holiday traffic

ST. GEORGE — Travel for the Thanksgiving holiday looks to rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, according to recent predictions released by AAA. This has prompted officials with AAA, as well as state road and law enforcement, to urge travelers on the road and in the air to be patient, prepared and courteous as highways and airports get crowded.

Northbound I-15 through St. George, Utah, Nov. 12, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Travel is expected to be up 13% from 2020, according to a AAA press release. Reasons given for this are the continual easing of certain travel restrictions and a return of consumer confidence.

“Travel volumes have recovered within 5% of pre-pandemic levels, and air travel has almost entirely recovered from its dramatic decline during, up 80% over last year,” said Aldo Vazquez, spokesperson for AAA Utah. “Those traveling this Thanksgiving can expect to face more crowded roads and airports than they’ve seen in some time.”

AAA predicts up to 53.4 million people will travel for Thanksgiving this year as opposed to 2020’s total of 47.1 million. Pre-pandemic levels in 2019 totaled 56 million. This year, the vast majority of travelers – 48.8 million – are projected to travel by car, with 4.2 million traveling by air, with the remainder making the trip by bus, train or cruise, according to the AAA’s data.

With 6.4 million more people traveling this Thanksgiving coupled with the recent opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers—people should prepare for roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded.

“Just be patient, be prepared, and be courteous,” Sgt. Preston Price, of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, said. Especially if travelers will be on the Arizona Stretch of Interstate 15 over the holiday. “We’re definitely expecting a lot more traffic through the area for the holiday,” Price said.

Table courtesy of AAA Utah, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Both north and southbound traffic between miles 8 and 9 in Arizona are already impacted by the bridge work being done there. Travel through the construction zone has been restricted to a single lane with a 45 mph speed limit. While this can cause congestion and delays on a regular day, holiday traffic is expected to aggravate these conditions.

In order to help traffic run as smoothly as possible, Price said the Arizona DPS is putting additional troopers on duty to monitor the situation and respond to whatever incidents take place during the holiday and resulting weekend.

The Utah Department of Transportation also asked drivers to be patient and courteous while on the road, and plan ahead for any potential issues that may occur while traveling, said Kevin Kitchen, UDOT’s spokesperson for the Region 4 area which covers southwest Utah.

UDOT expects there will be at least 10-minute delays on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving on northbound I-15 in the area of Nephi, between 5-8 p.m., he said.

A family having Thanksgiving Day dinner | Photo by Choreograph/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The exceptionally heavy traffic isn’t projected to hit Southern Utah until Sunday, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., on southbound I-15 through Cedar City, Kitchen said, adding this is expected to result in 20-minute delays on the road through the area.

Thanksgiving return traffic is traditionally heavy and prone to a handful of crashes along the way. Common among these crashes are rear-end collisions.

Drivers are advised to be patient when stuck in traffic congestion and not to get too close to the car ahead of them.

An area within Washington County that people should also start paying attention to is on state Route 9 by the Quail Lake Estates, Kitchen said.

This area is getting a traffic light, and while Kitchen said he was unsure if it will be operational by Thanksgiving or not, it will lead to a change in traffic patterns motorists will need to pay attention to.

In general, Kitchen also recommends travelers keep an emergency car kit on hand in case they get stuck in a multi-hour back-up situation on the highway or are caught in inclement weather.

Tips from the AAA

Whether you plan to do so by car or plane, it’s important to know how to navigate the new travel landscape to avoid unnecessary stress and challenges on the way to your Thanksgiving destination:

  • Be proactive. Book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible.
  • Be patient. The roads and airports will be busy so plan ahead. For domestic air travel, AAA suggests arriving at the airport two hours ahead of departure time and three hours for international. Wednesday afternoon will be the busiest on the roads.
  • Be prepared. Make sure you and your vehicle are road trip ready. AAA expects to help over 400,000 members over the holiday weekend. Check out AAA Utah’s Stress Less Checklist to prepare.
  • Be protected. AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and are helpful resources travelers may use for free to understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S. Also ensure you have masks ready as they are still required in many locations.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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