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Thursday, December 8, 2022

What to expect on Lehigh Valley roads, in airports this Thanksgiving and the best times to travel

Lehigh Valley residents planning on driving or flying this week for Thanksgiving should plan ahead and be patient, as transportation officials expect travel volumes to reach, and maybe even surpass, pre-pandemic levels.

More than 50 million people are expected to travel this week for the Thanksgiving holiday, crowding roads and airports across the country. In Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley, transportation officials are urging residents to prepare to avoid delays and traffic.

Drivers should give themselves extra time to arrive at their destination and be patient on the road, said PennDOT spokesperson Ron Young.

“At Thanksgiving, there are significantly higher traffic volumes, and motorists need to be vigilant and remain alert for traffic incidents,” Young said. “Be prepared for volume related slowdowns, disabled vehicles and other roadway obstructions. Also, please remember to slow down and move over for vehicles on the shoulder such as law enforcement and fire and [emergency medical services] personnel.”

AAA predicts 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving, up 1.5% from 2021, according to the agency’s Thanksgiving Travel Forecast. Officials there are also projecting it to be the third-busiest Thanksgiving travel season since they started tracking it in 2000, eclipsed only by 2005 and 2019, respectively.

“Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades,” said Mary Maguire, vice president of public and government affairs at AAA Northeast. “Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you’re driving or flying.”

The average price of a gallon of gas in Allentown on Tuesday was $3.94, according to Boston-based GasBuddy, which tracks fuel prices in the U.S., Canada and Australia. It’s a marked difference from June, when city gas prices peaked at $5.06 — the highest recorded average for the city since GasBuddy started tracking in 2008.

“It has been a dizzying year at the pump, with motorists likely feeling nauseous not from the eggnog, but from the roller coaster ride at the pump with record gasoline prices earlier this year, which have fallen significantly since mid-summer,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy in a news release. “Americans, however, are proving that while we’ll openly complain about high gas prices, most of us aren’t deterred from taking to the highways to observe Thanksgiving with those that matter most to us, especially as precautions from the pandemic have eased.”

And at least one chain of gas stations is offering drivers some relief, if only for the holidays. Sheetz said Monday it will reduce the price of its unleaded 88 gasoline to $1.99 per gallon through Nov. 28.

The Altoona convenience store chain has six locations in the Valley, four of which offer that type of gasoline: two in Palmer Township, along with Upper Macungie Township and Weisenberg Township.

But gas prices aren’t stopping residents from hitting the road. An informal poll this week hosted by Morning Call reporter Molly Bilinski found most aren’t changing their holiday plans due to inflation or high fuel prices.

Of the 63 people who participated, 75% said fuel prices and inflation haven’t changed their Thanksgiving travel plans. Twenty percent said the extra expense had changed their plans, while 5% were not sure yet.

To avoid the most hectic travel times over the Thanksgiving holiday, AAA’s travel forecast recommends travelers set out early in the morning on Wednesday, or before 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and avoid travel between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

While it might be crowded on roads and highways, at least the weather is forecast to be calm. Meteorologists from the National Weather Service on Tuesday said quiet weather is anticipated through Thanksgiving day with mostly sunny skies and highs in the low to mid-50s.

“If you have travel plans through Thanksgiving day across much of the mid-Atlantic and northeast, the weather will not be an issue,” according to the weather service. “Beyond that, you might have to dodge some rain.”

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Although the vast majority of travelers will be driving this week, AAA expects airports to be busy, too.

“You can expect fewer options and higher pricing than previous years, along with crowded terminals,” according to the agency. “Anticipate long TSA lines. If possible, avoid checking a bag to allow for more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule.”

“We’re recommending passengers give themselves extra time and pack their patience,” said Thomas R. Stoudt, executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, which owns and operates Lehigh Valley International Airport. “We’re already getting very close to surpassing 2018 passenger traffic numbers which demonstrates that air travel demand continues to be strong, and people are choosing ABE as their preferred airport.”

Airport officials on Tuesday said passenger traffic in October surpassed last year’s totals, with 78,534 passengers traveling through ABE — a 8.9% increase from October of last year.

Allegiant increased 32.4%, United jumped 29.8%, and American moved up 8.5%, according to a news release from the airport. However, Delta passenger traffic declined 39% from last October.

Drivers can check traffic conditions on roads by going to www.511PA.com. The agency’s “Historic Holiday Traffic” page can help residents determine when it’s the best time to travel for their area.

Morning Call reporter Molly Bilinski can be reached at mbilinski@mcall.com.



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