In Los Angeles, the official start of the holiday season is not marked by changes in leaves or a thin layer of snow, but by the flashing red and white taillights that meander along the 405 freeway as million people are leaving town for Thanksgiving. .
Last year, that annual tradition was turned upside down by the tightening of travel restrictions amid the emerging winter wave of COVID-19.
But travel experts expect the numbers to rebound to near pre-pandemic levels this week: an estimated 3.8 million Southern Californians will drive to their vacation destinations – up 9% from last year and only 1% less than in 2019, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.
According to the automobile club, many of the top nationwide vacation destinations are in California, including Anaheim, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Yosemite National Park. Drivers must therefore be prepared for heavy traffic.
However, not all rush hours are created equal. Major metropolitan areas will face the most congestion on Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. as commuters leaving work join vacation travelers on the road, the automobile club said.
Auto club spokesman Doug Shupe said Los Angeles would really start to feel the squeeze after 3 p.m. Wednesday.
“It will gradually become more and more congested,” he said, adding that there would also be “fairly good congestion” on Tuesday evening.
Experts from transportation analysis firm Inrix said the busiest local freeway segment will be Highway 5 southbound from Colorado Street in the Griffith Park Florence Avenue neighborhood in Downey, where traffic is expected to reach 385% above normal levels Wednesday afternoon and evening.
All outgoing highways are likely to be congested on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, the analytics company added, so drivers should plan to leave early and be prepared for longer journey times.
Those looking to avoid the hustle and bustle can also wait until Thanksgiving morning, times permitting, when the roads are generally more open.
Most drivers will also notice the spike in gasoline prices, with a gallon of regular unleaded on Tuesday averaging $ 4.705 in California – just a tenth of a cent below the state record set Monday.
Gas prices in Los Angeles County were approaching record highs at $ 4.704 per gallon on Tuesday. The county record, $ 4,705, was set in 2012.
The automobile club noted that prices between some stations can differ by as much as a dollar a gallon.
Patience and courtesy will also make a big difference on the road, Shupe said.
“This is the first time so many people are going to connect with their loved ones, and everyone is looking forward to the next few days of great food, great friends and great family,” he said. “Know that this will take a little longer. “
As for those traditional red-and-white taillights, he said, “We’ll definitely see Southern California’s barley-sugar highways.”