In Los Angeles, the official start of the Christmas season is marked not by falling leaves or a thin layer of snow, but by flashing red and white taillights, which meander along the 405 Freeway as millions of people They leave town to spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones.
Last year, that annual tradition was disrupted by tighter travel restrictions amid the growing COVID-19 winter surge.
But travel experts expect the numbers to rebound to near pre-pandemic levels this week: An estimated 3.8 million Southern Californians will drive to their vacation destinations, 9% more than last year and just 1% less than in. 2019, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.
Many of the nation’s top vacation destinations are in California, including Anaheim, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Yosemite National Park, the club said, so drivers should be prepared for heavy traffic.
However, not all peak travel times are the same. Major metropolitan areas will face the heaviest congestion on Wednesday from 1:30 to 6 pm as those leaving work join commuters already on vacation on the road, the entity added.
Los Angeles will really start to feel the crisis after 3 p.m. Wednesday, Automobile Club spokesman Doug Shupe noted. “It will be increasingly crowded,” he said, and there will also be “a good congestion” on Tuesday night.
Experts at transportation analytics company Inrix said the busiest local highway segment will be Southbound Highway 5, from Colorado Street in the Griffith Park neighborhood to Florence Avenue in Downey, where it is expected that traffic rises 385% above normal levels Wednesday afternoon and evening.
All exit highways are likely to be congested on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, the analysis firm added, so drivers should plan to leave early and prepare for longer times.
Those seeking to avoid such a situation can also wait until Thanksgiving morning itself, when the roads are usually clearer.
Meanwhile, those traveling by air will still find themselves in long lines, as flights are anticipated to increase for the date.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) officials estimated that two million passengers will pass through the terminals during the Thanksgiving holiday fortnight, Nov. 18-30. The figure is double that of last year, but it is still one million less than in 2019.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving is likely to be the busiest day at the airport, with a projection of 175,000 passengers, LAX spokeswoman Heath Montgomery said last week. “That is not yet a pre-pandemic level, but it is definitely the most active we have had since the beginning of 2020,” he said.
Smaller regional airports are also bracing for higher passenger volumes, with Long Beach airport officials projecting a number of travelers five times higher than in 2020, though 2019 levels will not be hit either.
The Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino also anticipates high numbers, authorities noted. Wednesday is slated to be the highest point, when more than 19,000 travelers are expected.
But much of the headache will remain on the roads, as most drivers will notice skyrocketing gas prices in addition to heavy traffic. A gallon of regular unleaded fuel averaged $ 4.7 in California on Tuesday, just a tenth of a cent below the all-time high set in the state on Monday.
In Los Angeles County, values approached record levels of $ 4,704 per gallon on the same day. The county record, $ 4,705, was set in 2012. The Automobile Club noted that prices between stations can differ by as much as a dollar per gallon.
Patience and courtesy will also make a big difference on the road, Shupe noted. “This is the first time that so many people will connect with their loved ones, and everyone is looking forward to the next few days of good food, friends and family,” he said. “You just have to know that it will take a little longer to get there.”
As for those traditional red and white taillights, he concluded: “The freeways of Southern California will look like candy canes for sure.”
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