Pilgrimages home likely to hit traffic
Change of timing can ease the pain
CAPITAL REGION Consider Alex Walthers among the 16 percent.
The 25-year-old Ballston Lake native takes the day before Thanksgiving off from work in Lowell, Mass., and begins the journey home on Tuesday, rather than brave the inevitable traffic snarls that form the following day. Having lived in the Bay State for two years, Walthers quickly learned that holiday travel congestion can easily tack an hour or two onto a 195-mile drive that already takes three and a half hours.
“Basically, it’s kind of expected you’re going to get stuck somewhere,” he said.
It’s an assumption many people make when formulating their Thanksgiving travel plans. Still, an estimated 45 percent of holiday travelers don’t start their journey until Wednesday, when there are bound to be some headaches.
Travelers like Walthers are among the 16 percent of travelers expected to leave for their destination on Tuesday, according to a survey released by AAA. Another 16 percent are expected to leave on Monday, two days ahead of the crunch.
About 18 percent of travelers actually wait until Thanksgiving to depart, while another 5 percent put off departure plans until Friday after the holiday. In total, an estimated 43.6 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday across the nation, a slight uptick from the 43.3 million people who traveled last year.
“Overall, I would expect holiday travel will be up when all is said and done,” predicted Eric Stigberg, a spokesman with AAA Northway in Schenectady.
In New York, 2.67 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more. And about 90 percent of these travelers are expected to be driving, meaning many area roads won’t exactly be smooth riding — especially during peak hours of travel.
Not that traveling by air will be any easier. Officials with the Albany International Airport are bracing for droves of passengers crowding the terminal from the early morning through the early evening on Wednesday.
Spokesman Doug Myers advised travelers to arrive at least 90 minutes before their anticipated departure time to ensure that they have enough time to get through the security checkpoint. Many flights are already booked, meaning rescheduling could be problematic.
“You might not get out the next day, and you might not get out the following day,” he said. “Then your vacation is basically shot.”
Myers anticipates an uptick in holiday travel this year after several consecutive years of declining figures. Though the airport canceled more than 100 flights as a result of Hurricane Sandy, Myers said air traffic for the year is still likely to increase by 1 percent, possibly further evidence of the nation’s ongoing economic recovery.
“There’s a pent-up demand for travel because we’ve had this recession on our shoulder for a number of years,” he said.
The travel push is also expected to impact rail service during the holiday. Amtrak expects most trains to sell out on Tuesday and Wednesday, meaning passengers may want to consider traveling off-peak on Monday or Friday.
All Amtrak trains in the Northeast will require reservations, including aboard the New York-to-Buffalo Empire Service. The rail service had more than 724,000 passengers nationally for the Thanksgiving holiday period in 2011, representing the most ever for the holiday.
Still, the added traffic on the ground and in the air isn’t expected to provide as much of an economic jolt this year, Stigberg said. The average traveler is expected to spend about $498, a decrease of about 10 percent over last year.
Travelers are also expected to journey shorter distances. Stigberg said a survey by AAA suggests the average round-trip for holiday travelers this year will be about 588 miles — down from 706 miles last year.
Those people looking to rent a car will also face paying significantly more. Stigberg said the average holiday rental car will cost about $47 for the weekend, up $10 from last year. The increased cost is likely due to consumer demand: Car rentals have spiked in the wake of the hurricane, which damaged hundreds of thousands of vehicles throughout the Northeast.
On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the Department of State to help relocate more than 17,000 cars to the New York metropolitan area to help with the demand. But by the time they arrive, the state’s highways could be a slow ride.
“The roads are going to be busy, so expect delays along the way,” Stigberg said.