Thanksgiving travel 2021: Best, worst times to hit the road

With more than 53 million Americans expected to travel for the five-day Thanksgiving holiday, planning ahead is the best strategy for avoiding unnecessary delays and gridlock, according to AAA.

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With an estimated 13% more travelers taking to the roads and skies for the 2021 holiday than in 2020, this means paying particular attention to routes and thoroughfares prone to bottlenecks when work-week traffic collides with mad-dash travelers bypassing the river and the woods for the interstate and the freeway.

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According to transportation analytics firm INRIX, Thanksgiving is expected to remain one of the nation’s busiest holidays for road trips, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic nearly two years after it began.

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“Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic,” INRIX transportation analyst Bob Pishue said in a prepared statement.

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At a minimum, major metro areas nationwide could see more than twice the delays compared with typical drive times, while drivers in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York City are likely to experience more than three-fold delays, he added, offering the following snapshot:

Worst Corridors and Times to Travel:

Metro AreaCorridorPeak Congestion% Above Normal
AtlantaI-85 South, Clairmont Road to MLK DriveWednesday, 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.340%
BostonI-93 North, Quincy Market to Massachusetts Highway 28Wednesday, 1 p.m.-3 p.m.240%
ChicagoI-290 West, Morgan Street to Wolfe RoadWednesday, 2:45 p.m.-4:45 p.m.329%
DetroitI-96 West, 6 Mile Road to Walled LakeWednesday, 2 p.m.-4 p.m.211%
HoustonI-10 West, Sjolander Road to Texas Highway 330Wednesday, 3:15 p.m.-5:15 p.m.344%
Los AngelesI-5 South, Colorado Street to Florence AvenueWednesday, 3:45 p.m.-5:45 p.m.385%
New YorkI-495 East, Borden Avenue to Little Neck ParkwayWednesday, 2:30 p.m.- 4:30 p.m.482%
San FranciscoI-80 East, I-580 to San Pablo Dam RoadWednesday, 4 p.m.-6 p.m.278%
SeattleI-5 South, Washington Highway 18 to Washington Highway 7Wednesday, 4 p.m.-6 p.m.257%
Washington, D.C.I-95 South, I-395 to Virginia Highway 123Wednesday, 2 p.m.-4 p.m.230%

Meanwhile, what time travelers strike out can make almost as much difference in their travel time as the routes they choose. According to INRIX, the following are the projected best and worst times to hit the road:

Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel:

DayBest TimeWorst Time
WednesdayAfter 9 p.m.noon-8 p.m.
ThursdayBefore 11 a.m.noon-3 p.m.
FridayBefore 11 a.m.1 p.m.-4 p.m.
SaturdayBefore noon2 p.m.-7 p.m.
SundayBefore noon1 p.m.-7 p.m.