Everyone knows Fourth of July traffic is a pain, but AAA predicts it will be particularly bad for Chicagoans Friday afternoon after the holiday.
AAA predicts that 2.67 million people in Illinois will be traveling for America’s birthday, a 4.3 percent increase from last year.
Traffic delays will peak July 5 between 1 and 3 p.m. and could double the time of a normal commute. Even though Chicago is AAA’s 10th most popular travel destination for the holiday, other cities are expected to see even worse delays reaching up to four times a normal commute.
P.S. Sriraj, the director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the afternoon of July 3 could also be a big chokepoint for drivers.
Sriraj said an increase in holiday travelers doesn’t surprise him. In addition to the Fourth of July being a generally popular travel weekend, he cited lower national gas prices and safer technology in cars as factors that could encourage people to travel this year.
The average gas price in Chicago as of July 1 is about $3.17 per gallon, according to Gas Buddy, a tech company that tracks fuel prices.
Illinoisans saw the state gas tax double beginning Monday, but AAA doesn’t expect the 19 cent-a-gallon increase will affect the number of drivers on the road, according to a news release.
Sriraj said because gas prices were already low, the tax increase won’t be significant enough to alter drivers’ behavior. Additionally, he said, most Illinoisans will have already made their holiday travel plans regardless of the new tax.
“The need to travel is still going to be there, and the desire to travel is also going to be there,” he said. “People made the choice already, so they’re not going to be seeing any change in that behavior.”
AAA’s analysis found that lower gas prices nationally, along with low unemployment and rising disposable incomes, could explain why more Americans want to travel this summer.
The Illinois Tollway expects more than 9.5 million vehicles to pass through the 294-mile system Wednesday through Monday, and will suspend most temporary maintenance and construction in anticipation of the influx of drivers, according to a news release.
The Chicago Department of Aviation expects 2.1 million passengers to fly into or out of Chicago’s airports between Tuesday, July 2, and Monday, July 8, a 1.2 percent increase from last year. About 1.6 million people are expected to use O’Hare and 490,000 are expected to use Midway.
CDA predicts the busiest day at O’Hare will be Sunday, July 7, while the busiest day at Midway will be Monday, July 8.
With increased traffic and congestion on all modes of transportation, Sriraj said the most important thing to keep in mind is safety.
“Because of the sheer number of people and cars that are going to be out in traffic, you may want to be a little more defensive in your driving patterns and make sure that you take all the precautions,” he said.