Travelers pass through Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on August 2. Airport officials are preparing for some 30,000 passengers to roll through their doors Wednesday and Sunday this Thanksgiving weekend. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY – This holiday season is considered “one of the busiest in recent history,” as air and ground travel begins to return to levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to AAA.
The association released its annual holiday travel outlook last week, predicting that 55 million Americans will fly or drive to a Thanksgiving destination this year. This includes 49 million who travel by car and an estimated 4.5 million who fly for holidays. If the outlook comes to fruition, that would be a 1.5% increase over last year and about 98% of the number of 2019 holiday trips.
“The upcoming vacation is projected to be one of the busiest for travel in two decades,” said Brian Ng, senior vice president of membership and travel marketing for AAA Utah, in a statement.
Wednesday’s figures will be the busiest days on the roads in Utah and across the U.S. And while a small storm is forecast to roll through Utah Wednesday morning, the weather isn’t expected to heavily affect travel in Utah this week.
UDOT expects heavy traffic on Wednesday and Sunday
The Utah Department of Transportation expects Wednesday afternoons and early evenings to be the busiest times for travel, especially on I-15. Drivers should expect:
- Delays of up to 15 minutes on I-15 Southbound in Salt Lake County from 3:00pm to 7:00pm
- Delays of up to 10 minutes on I-15 Northbound in Davis County from 3:00pm to 7:00pm
- Delays of up to 10 minutes on I-15 southbound near Nephi from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Although post-Thanksgiving travel is expected to be spread out over the following long weekend, UDOT also expects delays of up to 20 minutes near Cedar City on northbound I-15 from noon to 7:00 pm Sunday. Black Friday shopping can also result in busy streets, especially near malls and shopping malls, the agency advises.
UDOT spokesman John Gleason said the agency would suspend all of its construction work to open as many lanes as possible, as it has done for other major travel holidays. However, there are some traces of roadworks which may affect some lanes.
- I-80 and I-215 in eastern Salt Lake County: The lanes are shifted between 1300 East and 2300 East on I-80 and between 3300 South and 4500 South on I-215 due to the ongoing project to improve the surfacing of both highways.
- I-80 near the I-84 interchange: Westbound I-80 is reduced to one lane near Echo Reservoir because crews are replacing the driving surface on the bridges on Echo Dam Road. The project will continue through early December before halting for the winter, according to UDOT.
- I-70 near the I-15 interchange: The highway is reduced to one lane in both directions between Cove Fort and the I-15 interchange because crews are replacing 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 run its normal schedule on Wednesday. There is no service on Thanksgiving Thursdayhowever, and the agency will operate on a Saturday Friday schedule.
Falling gas prices across Utah
Those hitting the road will notice significantly lower gas prices than the summer vacation travel season, even though prices remain just over a quarter per gallon higher than last Thanksgiving.
Andrew Gross, a spokesman for AAA, says the national average is also down as overall gas demand fell from 9.01 million barrels to 8.74 million barrels last week, even as national gasoline inventories are tight. significantly increased. Growing supply combined with lower demand is lowering the national average. The organization listed the national average at $3.63 a gallon on Tuesday, 3 cents lower than on Monday and 19 cents lower than a month ago.
“This Thanksgiving will be about 20 cents more than it was a year ago and a dollar more per gallon than it would be in a pre-pandemic 2019,” Gross said in a statement Monday. “However, we can be grateful that gas prices are moving in the right direction for now.”
AAA says the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Utah has finally dropped below $4 a gallon, dropping to a statewide average of $3.97 on Tuesday. Gas prices are generally cheapest along the Wasatch Front and central Utah this week, while they are most expensive in southern Utah and parts of northeastern Utah.
Gas is the cheapest in Sevier County ($3.75 a gallon), followed by Carbon ($3.80), Box Elder ($3.83), Emery ($3.84), Juab, and Weber ($3.84). $3.85 each). That still remains about $4.70 a gallon in Piute County, 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 be taking to the skies to travel this week. The planned 4.5 million holiday flights represent an 8% increase over last year.
That translates to about 30,000 travelers walking through Salt Lake City International Airport’s main gates on Wednesday alone, plus an unknown number of people catching up for connecting flights at the airport. Nancy Volmer, an airport spokeswoman, said the busiest services are expected to be between 6:30am and 10:30am and 1:00pm and 4:30pm on Wednesdays.
That could lead to parking issues, as the airport ran out of parking spaces during the 2021 fall break, when nearly 30,000 passengers passed through the airport that weekend. To counter this, airport officials advise travelers to book parking in advance or use UTA’s TRAX service that goes to the airport.
Alternative parking areas could also be opened if economy parking reaches full capacity, airport officials said. They add that travelers should plan ahead and know what is allowed through security lines and what can be brought onto a plane as carry-on baggage, in advance, to avoid holding up lines.
Sunday also seems to be a busy day at the airport, as people fly back to Utah or go home after visiting the Hive State. Volmer said another 30,000 passengers are expected to enter the airport’s main gates on the final day of the long weekend.
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