Less Construction, Higher Gas Prices Could Lighten Holiday Traffic

Traffic Reporters Share Tips On Smooth Holiday Travel

Simply put, traffic usually sucks for the Memorial Day Holiday.
Considered one of the year’s biggest driving weekends, the exodus out of the city on Friday and the return back to town Monday can be painfully slow and frustrating.

However, traffic for the Memorial Day holiday may be lighter this year for two reasons.

Gas prices and less construction.

Newsradio 780 Traffic Reporter Steven Haas, who’s been the overnight voice for drivers for over 20 years says that construction on local expressways is down from recent years, and most major construction projects will be idle for the entire weekend.

“It’s (going to be) better this year than in years past, as we have no major projects in the immediate Chicago area.,” explains Haas. “Repaving work is taking place on the Stevenson (I-55), but that will be put on hold for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, as will all other projects, with the exception of I-80 in the south suburbs, which is down to one lane roughly between Larkin and Briggs.”

In addition, Haas says that in one multi-year construction in Northwest Indiana is supposed to finish before the weekend on Westbound I-80/94 opening up all four lanes from Ripley to Broadway, which make traffic in that area much smoother.

As always, the Illinois Department of Transportation puts all non-emergency road construction on hold for long holiday weekends to improve traffic flows. As of 3 PM today, IDOT will suspend all road work and open up all lanes where possible until midnight on Monday, May 30th.

Although, IDOT does warn that in some cases, some construction zones may have lane closures in effect.

“IDOT is committed to public safety and has provided a list of anticipated closures in advance to help motorists plan their trips over the holiday weekend,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig. “With less construction and heavy equipment in use this weekend, traffic congestion can be reduced, and safety and traffic flow continues to improve.”

Higher Gas Prices = Less Travelers On The Road?

The other part of the equation is gas prices.

With gas prices about $1.25 higher than Memorial Day 2010, AAA Motorclub is predicting a very mild decrease in travelers that drive to their destination this holiday.

“Approximately 30.9 million people plan to drive to their destination, a small decline from the 31 million who drove last year,” writes AAA Chicago’s Beth Mosher on the organization’s website. “In spite of gasoline prices more than a dollar per gallon higher than a year ago, automobile travel continues to be the dominant mode of transportation.”

Although Newsradio 780′s morning traffic reporter Bart Shore believes the recent dip in gas prices might have convinced some drivers to reconsider taking a road trip this holiday.

“When you’re used to paying $4.40 or $4.45 per gallon and then gas dips down below $4 in some places outside the city, more people will be on the road,” says Shorr.

Tips To Avoid Getting Caught In Holiday Traffic

Despite potentially lighter than normal holiday traffic, drivers should expect delays at key times on Friday and returning on Monday.

“I didn’t notice a huge rush leaving tonight (Thursday) which has been the case on the Thursday before Memorial Day,” says Haas. “I’m not sure if it is actually due to less volume, or no huge construction projects. My guess will be the big push out comes tomorrow (Friday) afternoon, and, since it is supposed to be nice on Memorial Day, the big push home probably won’t hit until late in the evening on Monday.”

According to Shore, the best advice is to get as early a start as possible on your weekend travel plans.

“The best thing to do is travel early on Friday anytime before noon,” says Shore. “Starting at noon it will start to get crazy.”

The other alternative would be to wait until after the evening rush hour is over to exit the city after 7 or 8 PM.

Returning on Monday, consider coming back early afternoon or again, waiting until very late Monday night to avoid the returning holiday traffic. Shore believes city traffic won’t start to lock up until about 5 PM Monday evening.

“People usually take the whole day in as much as they can,” says Shore explaining the later traffic pattern on Monday.

Of course, keep your radio tuned to Newsradio 780′s traffic reports on the eights.

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