Record 2.8 million Illinois residents expected to travel over Fourth of July weekend: AAA

Though road trips are expected to be the preferred method of travel this holiday weekend with 2.5 million Illinoisans hitting the road, travelers are also catching flights, buses, trains and even cruises, AAA officials said.

SHARE Record 2.8 million Illinois residents expected to travel over Fourth of July weekend: AAA
A record 2.8 million Illinois residents, with 2.5 million hitting the road, are expecting to travel over the long Fourth of July weekend.

A record 2.8 million Illinois residents, with 2.5 million hitting the road, are expecting to travel over the long Fourth of July weekend.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

As Chicagoans gear up for red, white and blue celebrations, travel is expected to reach a record high this Fourth of July weekend.

AAA estimates that 2.8 million Illinoisans will travel 50 miles or more during the holiday weekend, a 4% increase from last year’s record high, with about 89% of those travelers hitting the road.

Nationwide, nearly 51 million Americans are expected to travel between Friday and Tuesday, AAA officials said. Though airfares and hotel prices are more expensive than last year — with passengers paying 40-50% more for flights — Americans are eager to take to the road and sky this holiday weekend.

In Illinois, gas prices have fallen by about 7 cents over the past two weeks. Even if gas prices increase over the July 4 weekend, those traveling by car will pay significantly less for gas compared to last year.

Last Independence Day weekend, gas prices in Chicago averaged about $5.99 per gallon, according to AAA. On Monday, gas prices within the city averaged $4.57 a gallon, nearly $1.50 less compared to last year.

Chicago-area gas stations could see minor increases in gas prices by Tuesday related to a state motor fuel tax that will go into effect on Saturday and increase gas prices by about 3 cents per gallon, according to Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. However, DeHaan added that consumers may not feel the effects of the tax increase since the price of oil has been declining, which may partially offset the tax.

On the roads, the Illinois Tollway expects 9.2 million vehicles to pass through the 294-mile system between Friday and Tuesday. It will suspend most temporary maintenance and construction in anticipation of the influx of drivers, according to Cassaundra Rouse, the executive director of the Illinois Tollway.

Rouse said she expects Friday to be the busiest day on the roads with 1.9 million drivers estimated to be on the Tollway system. To avoid any traffic jams, Rouse said she encourages drivers to hit the road early. She added that there will be increased highway patrols for the holiday weekend with troopers increasing visibility and enforcement efforts.

Though road trips are Americans’ preferred method of travel this holiday season, travelers are also catching flights, buses, trains and even cruises, AAA officials said.

The 115,000 Illinoisans expected to fly during the holiday weekend may face some challenges and delays related to bad weather, the inability of airline crews to reach their scheduling offices and large crowds.

O’Hare and Midway International Airports are expecting nearly 1.5 million passengers between Friday and Wednesday, based on airline projections released Thursday by the Chicago Department of Aviation.

Friday is projected to be the busiest travel day at O’Hare, when 231,000 passengers are expected to come through the airport. At Midway, the busiest travel day is projected to be Saturday, when the airport will see about 58,000 passengers.

By Wednesday afternoon, nearly 3,500 U.S. flights were delayed and over 800 were canceled across the country, according to data from FlightAware. Of these disruptions, O’Hare saw over 350 flight delays and over 100 flight cancellations while Midway experienced about 85 flight delays and only one flight cancellation as of Wednesday afternoon.

Pat Mullane, a spokesperson for United Airlines, O’Hare’s largest carrier, said severe weather in the Northeast caused United to delay and cancel flights in Chicago. Mullane added that United flights have not been affected by Chicago’s air quality, which is listed by the federal government as “very unhealthy” due to smoke from Canadian wildfires.

John Monk, a 77-year-old who lives in South Carolina, said he experienced multiple flight delays and gate changes at O’Hare with United while flying back to the U.S. on Tuesday after a monthlong trip throughout Europe with his wife and 17-year-old granddaughter. Monk and his family were flying from Rome to Charlotte, North Carolina, with a layover in Chicago that was initially meant to be about five hours but turned out to be closer to eight hours.

“My bottom line when it comes to delays, even though they’re really inconvenient and you’re worn out sitting in the airport, I want to arrive alive and if they think they have to delay, they have to delay,” Monk said.

The Independence Day weekend also coincides with the NASCAR Chicago Street Race, a two-day event on Saturday and Sunday around Grant Park that’s expected to attract 100,000 attendees.

For those opting for railway travel, Marc Magliari, Amtrak’s senior public relations manager, said since the NASCAR race falls on the holiday weekend, he expects it to be a strong travel period for those taking the train.

Magliari said he encourages people coming to the downtown Union Station to allow for extra time because of street closures and anticipated traffic.

On the roads, Illinois Tollway officials said as long as drivers stay west of Lake Shore Drive, they should be able to avoid any disruptions or traffic jams related to the NASCAR race, but Tollway officials expect some congestion approaching the city.

With record-high numbers expected this weekend, Rouse said it’s important for drivers to prioritize safety by wearing their seatbelts, putting their phones away while driving and using designated drivers as needed.

“Over the summer, there’s so many great destinations in the Chicagoland area during the Fourth of July holiday, and that really marks why this is one of the heaviest travel weekends,” Rouse said.

Contributing: AP

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