What you need to know about Memorial Day travel, traffic and events in the Chicago area

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CHICAGO — More than 41.5 million Americans are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA. Many of them will be headed into (and out of) Chicago, which was ranked as the most popular Memorial Day destination in the country by Priceline this year.

The vast majority of travelers will hit the road, bringing an estimated 8 million vehicles to the Illinois tollways alone. Airports will be busy too, and Chicago’s airports are expecting more than 1.7 million passengers.

Whatever your plans are this weekend, here are some important things you to keep in mind before hitting the roads, skies or stations:

Things to know before you go

The worst times to drive and travel

  • In general, INRIX predicts drivers across the U.S. will experience the greatest amount of traffic in the late afternoons of Thursday and Friday, as commuters mix with travelers
  • The Illinois Tollway Authority says the most vehicles will be on the roads on Friday, March 25, when nearly 2 million are expected.
  • Friday between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. will be the worst time to drive in Chicago, with 2.1x times the delays, according to INRIX and AAA
  • INRIX recommends avoiding peak commute times altogether, traveling in the late morning or early afternoon
  • Friday is also expected to be the busiest day at area airports, with nearly 274,000 coming through O’Hare and nearly 75,000 at Midway, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA)

Plane and train tips

  • Airfare, car rentals and mid-range hotels are expected to be somewhat cheaper this year, according to AAA.
  • Metra is offering free rides for up to three children under age 11 per adult, starting Memorial Day weekend and going through Labor Day.
  • Metra is adding early “getaway” trains on Friday, with most lines adding and shifting trains through the early afternoon.
  • Metra will be operating on a Sunday/holiday schedule on Memorial Day, which means there will be no service on the North Central, Heritage, and SouthWest lines.
  • While the CDA boasts more than 95 percent of passengers wait less than 15 minutes at security in Chicago airports, they still recommend arriving two hours before your flight is scheduled to depart.

Events and closures affecting traffic

  • Tollway lane closures, all weekend: Tri-State traffic is shifted right in both directions at 159th St., I-88 traffic is shifted between I-290 and York Rd., and traffic is reduced to one lane between Route 251 and Bliss Road.
  • Construction restrictions, through May 29: Delays from construction should be limited because activity will be restricted, from May 25 at 9 a.m. through May 29.
  • Soldier Field 10-Miler, May 26: Starting at 7 a.m., Fort Dearborn Drive will close until 8:45 a.m., and the NB lanes of Lake Shore Drive will close from 31st Street to 57th Street until 9:30 a.m.
  • Memorial Day Parade, May 26: After the wreath laying ceremony at Daley Plaza around 11 a.m., State Street will be closed from Lake Street to Van Buren Street for the parade, which steps off at noon.
  • Bike the Drive, May 27: Lake Shore Drive will be closed from Bryn Mawr Avenue to 57th Street from 5 a.m. until about 11 a.m.
  • Midway lane closure, all weekend: Extended lane closures on South Cicero Avenue near Midway Airport reduces roads from six to four lanes of traffic near the airport.

Remember to be safe

  • Get alerts: The City of Chicago issues emergency alerts through Notify Chicago, while travel apps can provide realtime updates on traffic conditions.
  • Say something: The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) advises drivers to call 9-1-1 and notify police of any bad behavior spotted on the roads during the holidays.
  • Check your car: AAA recommends getting your battery tested, looking for engine coolant leaks and checking tire condition before leaving to prevent breakdowns on the road.
  • Call for help: If you need roadside assistance on the Illinois Tollway, call *999.


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