Utah’s roads, airports will be at their busiest as Thanksgiving travel returns to normal

Travelers walk through Salt Lake City International Airport on August 2. Airport officials are expecting about 30,000 passengers to come through its gates on Wednesday and Sunday over the Thanksgiving weekend. (Spencer Heaps, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — This holiday season will be “one of the busiest in recent history” as air and ground travel begin to return to levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to AAA.

The association released its annual holiday travel forecast last week, predicting that 55 million Americans will either fly or drive to their Thanksgiving destination this year. That includes 49 million people traveling by car and about 4.5 million people flying for the holiday. If the predictions come true, this would represent a 1.5% increase over last year and a nearly 98% increase in the number of holiday trips in 2019.

“The upcoming holiday 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.

Wednesday will be the busiest day on roads in Utah and across the United States. Although a small thunderstorm is forecast to pass through Utah on Wednesday morning, the weather is not expected to significantly affect travel to Utah this week.

UDOT predicts heavy traffic Wednesday, Sunday

The Utah Department of Transportation plans Wednesday afternoon and early evening to be the busiest time for travel, especially on I-15. Drivers should expect:

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

While post-Thanksgiving travel is expected to be spread out over the long weekend ahead, UDOT is also expecting delays of up to 20 minutes on northbound I-15 near Cedar City from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. The agency advises that Black Friday shopping can result in busy streets, especially near malls and retail centers.

UDOT spokesman John Gleason said the agency will suspend all construction work to open as many lanes as possible, as it does during other major travel holidays. However, there are some traces of construction work that may affect some lanes.

  • I-80 and I-215 east of Salt Lake County: Lanes are being changed on I-80 between 1300 East and 2300 East and on I-215 between 3300 South and 4500 South due to an ongoing road surface improvement project for both freeways.
  • Near the I-80, I-84 interchange: Westbound I-80 is reduced to one lane near Echo Reservoir as crews resurface the bridges over Echo Dam Road. According to UDOT, the project will continue in early December before taking a break for the winter.
  • I-70 near the I-15 interchange: The freeway is down to one lane in both directions between the Fort Cove and I-15 interchange as crews replace the roadway and retaining walls of the I-70 bridge over I-15.

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

Gas prices are down in Utah

Those who hit the roads will find that gas prices are significantly lower since the summer holiday travel season, although prices remain a quarter-per-gallon lower than last Thanksgiving.

AAA spokesman Andrew Gross says that while domestic gasoline inventories are up significantly, the national average is also declining as total gas demand fell to 8.74 million barrels from 9.01 million barrels last week. Increased supply mixed with lower demand is pushing the national average down. The agency reported the national average price Tuesday at $3.63 a gallon, down 3 cents from Monday and 19 cents from a month ago.

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

AAA says the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas in Utah finally fell below $4 a gallon to a statewide average of $3.97 on Tuesday. Gas prices are generally cheaper this week along the Wasatch Front and central Utah, but higher in southern Utah and parts of northeastern Utah.

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

The Salt Lake City airport is ready for a big crowd

Meanwhile, many Americans will be taking to the skies to travel this week. The 4.5 million flights planned for the holiday represent an 8% increase compared to last year.

That means nearly 30,000 travelers came through the front gates of Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday alone — plus an unknown number of people catching connecting flights at the airport. Airport spokeswoman Nancy Vollmer said the biggest rushes will be between 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

This could lead to parking problems, as the airport ran out of parking spaces during fall break 2021 when about 30,000 passengers arrived from the airport that weekend. To combat this, airport officials advise travelers to reserve parking in advance or take UTA’s TRAX service to the airport.

Airport officials say that if economy parking reaches full capacity, alternative parking areas may also be opened. They add that travelers should plan ahead and know in advance what is allowed through security lines and what can be brought on board as carry-on luggage to avoid standing in lines.

Sunday will also be a busy day at the airport as people either return to Utah or return home after visiting the Beehive State. Another 30,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport’s front gates on the final day of the long weekend, Vollmer said.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter covering general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked at the Deseret News. He’s a Utah transplant by way of Rochester, New York.

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