Planning a trip over the Fourth of July weekend this year? If so, brace yourself for a record amount of company.
This Independence Day holiday period will be the busiest — by car, plane and other ways — in at least 16 years, experts predicted Tuesday.
Nearly 44 million travelers are expected to hit the nation’s roads, airports, buses, trains or cruise ships between Thursday, June 30, and Monday, July 4, AAA officials said.
That’s the largest number for what is traditionally the busiest holiday of the summer since AAA began keeping records in 2001.
Fueling the travel boom are the lowest July 4 holiday gas prices in 11 years and a 15 percent drop in airfares for the year, AAA said.
In Chicago, Independence Day holiday gas prices were expected to hit their lowest levels in at least a decade, said petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan of gasbuddy.com.
“Very healthy” oil inventories were helping drive prices down, DeHaan said.
On Tuesday, prices for regular gas averaged $2.908 a gallon in Chicago; $2.605 in the six-county area; $2.467 in Illinois; and $2.3 nationally, according to the AAA fuel gauge report. The cheapest gas among neighboring states was in Indiana, where it averaged $2.25 a gallon.
Many Chicago area stations could see minor drops by July 4, although some very low-priced stations might see minor increases, DeHaan said Tuesday.
Nationwide, 84 percent of Fourth of July holiday travelers were expected to hit the road by car; 7.8 percent were opting for plane flights; and 7.6 percent were choosing other modes of travel, AAA said.
The Chicago Department of Aviation projected that more than 1.5 million travelers would pass through O’Hare International Airport over the Independence Day holiday period, which it defined as Thursday, June 30, through Wednesday, July 6. That’s up 3 percent from last year.
Midway Airport holiday travelers were expected to increase by 4 percent over last year, to 500,000.
City aviation officials noted that both airports have seen significant reductions in wait times at security screening lines since a mid-May meltdown that prompted the Transportation Security Administration to send waves of extra manpower — as well as bomb-sniffing canine teams — to both airports.
At O’Hare, peak wait times have dropped from an average 104 minutes over the first half of May to 28 minutes from June 6 to June 19. At Midway, they fell from 65 minutes to 23 minutes over the same time period.
O’Hare’s largest carrier, United Airlines, expected its number of July 4th holiday customers through O’Hare to hit a three-year high, United spokesman Charles Hobart said.
Although the TSA traditionally recommends that travelers arrive at airports at least two hours in advance of domestic flights and three hours before international ones, fliers this holiday might want to budget even more time, depending on their travel day, Hobart said.
City Aviation officials expected Thursday to be the busiest travel day at O’Hare, and Friday was tagged for the most travelers at Midway and along the Illinois Tollway system.
To beat any Friday logjam, Tollway officials urged drivers to start their trips before lunch or after 8 p.m. Friday.
Most temporary Tollway construction lane closures were being suspended between noon Friday, July 1, through 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 5. But officials reminded drivers that lower construction speed limits will still be in effect, even if workers are not present.