Experts predict the worst times to drive in Chicago as holiday travel surges this year

CHICAGO -- Whether it’s at the airport, over the roads, or on the rails, a new AAA report out Thursday predicts more than 50 million people will travel 50 miles or more next week, making up the highest Thanksgiving travel volume in 12 years. The result: experts say travel times over the long weekend could be three times as long as normal.

Most travel will happen on the roads. AAA and global transportation analytics company INRIX are predicting huge traffic jams in the Chicago area. Their study shows the worst time to drive next week will be Tuesday between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Early holiday travelers mixing with evening commuters could mean a delay nearly 300% higher than normal.

The worst traffic spot in Chicago will be I-90 West at I-190, right outside O'Hare. And not to rub salt in the wound, but sitting in traffic will be more expensive too, as prices in Illinois are up an average of 65 cents a gallon from last year.

Just in time for this massive travel week, the TSA has brought new technology to Midway: screening lines designed to make the process smoother and about 50 percent faster, they say. The bins are bigger and move through an automatic feedback process where up to four people at a time can grab bins, add their belongings, and feed them into the x-ray. If something needs closer inspection, it's automatically kicked onto a different moving belt to prevent any backups in the line behind it. Last year, O'Hare debuted five of these lanes, while two of Midway’s 17 lines now use this new technology.

"It’s going to be a big help over the holiday season; we’re anticipating somewhere in excess of about 28,000 passengers per day will go through the checkpoint here at Midway during the peak days of holiday season; up at O'Hare we anticipate 90,000 passengers per day," said TSA Federal Security Director Kevin McCarthy.

 

But there is some good news: AAA says cheaper airfare, a strong economy and higher consumer confidence are likely behind the Thanksgiving travel boom.