Worst Day To Get Out Of Town: Illinois Memorial Day Travel Guide

Worst Day To Get Out Of Town: Illinois Memorial Day Travel Guide

The three-day Memorial Day weekend will be a busy one on the nation’s highways. Here’s the best time to get out of Chicago.

Eight million vehicles are expected on Illinois highways during Memorial Day weekend 2019.

CHICAGO — Nearly 43 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles this year to observe Memorial Day, and the majority of them — 37.6 million — will do so in cars. Meanwhile, in Chicagoland, the Illinois Tollway expects nearly 8 million vehicles to hit the roads between Friday, May 24, and Tuesday, May 28.

If you want to avoid traffic jams in the Chicago area, stay off the roads late in the afternoon on Friday, especially during the evening commute hours of 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

During those hours, the trip will likely take about 1.6 times longer than normal, the auto club said, using data from the global transportation analytics company INRIX. The federal holiday set aside to remember members of the military who died while serving their country is often considered the unofficial start of summer.

The Illinois Tollway agrees that Friday will be the worst travel day, expecting two million vehicles to hit the road that day alone.

Illinois Tollway Executive Director José Alvarez offered some tips to make the highways less hectic this Memorial Day weekend.

  • Take your transponder. I-PASS can be used to pay tolls on the Illinois Tollway system and in other states that accept E-ZPass, including Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and 13 other states that are part of the E-ZPass network.
  • Avoid distracted driving. Stop at any Tollway oases to safely use cellphones for calling, texting and accessing mobile apps. It’s illegal for drivers to use any hand-held device when driving.
  • Get on your Waze. The Tollway provides Waze with information on lane blockages, roadway incidents and the location of H.E.L.P. trucks.
  • Keep tabs on your tolls. The Tollway’s website is fully accessible from mobile devices, providing access anytime, anywhere to I-PASS account information or pay unpaid tolls.

Illinois holiday work zones

To accommodate holiday travel on the Illinois Tollway, construction activity will be restricted. Most temporary maintenance and construction lane closures will be suspended from noon on Friday, May 24, through 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 28. Some work may continue behind barriers to keep work on schedule.

Areas where ongoing work zones may impact traffic include:

Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80)

  • On the Edens Spur, between Pfingsten Road and the Edens Expressway, traffic is reduced to one lane in each direction.
  • At the 159th Street Interchange, the ramps carrying traffic from westbound 159th Street to southbound I-294 and from northbound I-294 to westbound 159th Street are closed with posted detours.

Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88)

  • Between I-290 and York Road, traffic is shifted in both directions and access to I-290, Mannheim Road and the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) is restricted in certain lanes, so drivers need to pay attention to construction signage.

Hectic holiday weekend

Nationwide, the worst traffic congestion will occur late afternoons on Thursday and Friday, May 23 and 24. Many U.S. workers will leave their jobs early and mix with holiday traffic, creating a perfect storm for an afternoon commute that could sour your mood before the start of the Saturday through Monday holiday.

“Drivers in the most congested metros should expect much worse conditions than normal,” Trevor Reed, transportation analyst, INRIX, said in a news release. “Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the morning and evening commuting times or plan alternate routes.”

Triple-A says 2019 will see the second-highest Memorial Day weekend traffic by volume since it started keeping track in 2000 and the most travelers since 2005. Overall, there will be 1.5 million more people traveling by car, train or plane than there were in 2018, for an increase of 3.6 percent.

Those traveling by automobile are doing so despite a rising national gas price average close to $3 a gallon. The national average for a gallon of gasoline was $2.86 on May 14, which compares to last year’s national average of $2.87 a gallon on the same date a year ago.

“When gas prices are expensive, travelers may shorten the distance of a road trip, eat out less or look for free activities,” AAA gas price expert Jeanette Casselano said in the release. “But, overall, prices are very similar to this time last year and, like then, they aren’t letting that deter them from taking summer road trips.”

The auto club said 3.25 million people will fly to their Memorial Day destinations, 4.8 percent more than last year. It will be the busiest holiday in the skies since 2005.

About 1.9 million people, an increase of 3.8 percent over last year, will travel by train, bus or cruise ship, according to the release.

And though gas prices are increasing, car rental and hotel rates are down a bit this Memorial Day. AAA’s Leisure Travel Index shows car rental prices are down 7 percent, compared to last year, with an average daily rate of $55. Mid-range hotels are between 2 percent and 3 percent cheaper this year, with an average nightly rate of $146 and $183, respectively for the AAA Two and Three Diamond-rated properties.

Airfares are holding steady compared to last Memorial Day with an average roundtrip price of $171, Triple-A said.

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