Holiday traffic
Expect holiday traffic in Southern California to be heavy and unpredictable. Photo courtesy California Highway Patrol

The Automobile Club of Southern California says it’s expecting this year’s Thanksgiving holiday to be the busiest in Southern California since 2005, with 4.2 million residents expected to get away for the long weekend.

That’s a 5.1 percent increase over last year, the AAA said in a statement. The vast majority of Southern California travelers — 3.6 million or 86 percent of all travelers — will drive to their destinations, a 5.1 percent increase over last year. Another 476,000 Southern Californians are expected to fly, which is an increase of 5.9 percent from the 2017 holiday, while 123,000 will go by other means, such as train, bus or cruise, which will represent a 1.2 percent increase over last year.

The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as five days from Wednesday, Nov. 21 to Sunday, Nov. 25, and a holiday trip is defined as one of at least 50 miles from home.

The all-time record number of Thanksgiving travelers was set in 2005, when 58.6 million nationwide, 6.9 million statewide and nearly 4.3 million in Southern California took holiday trips.

“Even with an average 5 percent increase in Thanksgiving holiday airfares over last year, consumer confidence has continued to increase demand for air-travel destinations,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel products and services.

San Diego is expected to be the second most popular destination for Thanksgiving travelers nationwide, according to AAA’s online and travel agency bookings.  A survey of the Auto Club’s travel agents reveals the top five destinations for Southern Californians this holiday are: Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon and Anaheim.

The transportation analytics firm INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion Thanksgiving week during the early evening commute period, with travel times starting to increase on Monday.

In general, the Auto Club recommends travelers plan an early morning start. If travelers’ schedules are flexible, the best days to travel during Thanksgiving week will likely be early Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“No matter when drivers leave for their holiday trips, we remind them, ‘Don’t Drive Intoxicated,’” said Auto Club spokesperson Jeffrey Spring. “An increase in traffic requires extra focus on the road ahead and we want drivers to remember texting while driving could lead to the same deadly consequences as alcohol-impaired driving.”

According to INRIX, the heaviest congestion period in Southern California will be between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 21, on southbound Interstate 5 between Pacific Coast Highway in south Orange County (Exit 79) and Coast Highway in Oceanside (Exit 54B).

Southern California gas prices are dropping at a fairly steady pace from their highest levels since 2014 but are expected to still be 50 to 60 cents higher per gallon than during last year’ holiday. The Auto Club recommends that travelers use a free app like AAA Mobile to shop virtually for the cheapest gas prices along their route.

AAA expects to help 101,000 stranded drivers in California and nearly 360,000 at the roadside across the country during this Thanksgiving holiday. Dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts will be the main reasons for members to call AAA for a roadside rescue. AAA recommends motorists take their vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.