SALT LAKE CITY — As nearly 51 million Americans plan to leave home for the Thanksgiving weekend, AAA reminds travelers to prepare for heavy traffic and long delays.
"It's going to be the busiest holiday travel season that we've seen across the U.S. since 2005," said Michael Blasky, spokesman for AAA Utah. "There's going to be a lot more people on the road this year."
Almost 1.5 million more people will travel this weekend compared to last year, AAA reported.
In Utah, there will be 25 percent more cars on the road than usual, according to the Utah Department of Transportation. UDOT officials recommend leaving early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid almost an hour delay on I-15 Wednesday afternoon.
"Traditionally, Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest times on Utah roads, and this year is going to be no exception," said UDOT spokesman John Gleason.
Several UDOT construction projects across the state are wrapping up in time for the holiday travel.
"We want to help people get to where they’re going as simply and easily as possible," Gleason said. "Those openings are really going to help alleviate some of the congestion and help with traffic flow."
The I-215 west belt reconstruction from state Route 201 to 4700 South, the Mountain View Corridor extension from 5400 South to 4100 South and the Bangerter Highway interchange at 7000 South opened earlier this week.
Two more projects — I-15 from Brigham Road to Dixie Drive in St. George and the I-15/10600 South interchange in Sandy — are scheduled to open Wednesday.
UDOT plans to suspend other construction projects over the holiday to improve traffic flow.
UDOT also cautioned drivers to watch for congestion near retail centers during Black Friday, as traffic by shopping centers can extend from local streets to freeways.
"We were very aware of what a major holiday this is and what a major time of the year this is for retailers, shoppers and for people just trying to get around," Gleason said.
Gleason also cautioned travelers to avoid driving distracted or while drowsy.
"The more vehicles you have out on the road, there's more opportunity for crashes to occur," he said.
Yet for those traveling on I-15, specific highway features may reduce the risk of accidents, according to a recent Brigham Young University study.
The study, commissioned by the Federal Highway Administration, found that highways with concrete barrier medians, minimal hills and curves and paved right shoulders were associated with lower rates of accidents.
The co-author of the study, BYU professor Matt Heaton, said Utah's I-15 is one example of a well-constructed highway with those features that can decrease overall crash risks.
If travelers are involved in minor crashes like fender benders on highways this weekend, Gleason advised drivers to stay in their cars and head to the next exit before calling the police and exchanging information.
"If you can, get off the road to a safe spot," he said. "It will keep you safe and it will also keep traffic moving."
One bright spot if you are hitting the road: cheaper fuel prices.
Utah's average gas price of $2.47 was a few cents lower than the national average, according to Tuesday's AAA statistics.
The national average has been slowly declining since the start of the week, reaching $2.53 by Tuesday.
For those preparing to take to the skies this holiday season, the Salt Lake City International Airport still ranks No. 1 for on-time departures.
Airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said the airport will try to maintain that ranking through the busy holiday season.
"We’re asking everyone to be patient as we get you through the airport and on your way," she said.
The busiest time to fly is the day before Thanksgiving, she added, as officials expect 25,000 passengers on Wednesday and 21,000 on Sunday.
Volmer recommends arriving two to three hours prior to a flight for plenty of time to find parking, check in bags and pass through security.
Travelers can also print boarding passes before arriving at the airport and visit the airplane website to check if flights are delayed.
"Plan ahead when you’re at home," Volmer said. "That will save you some time at the airport."
The airport is also hosting holiday performers who will perform in terminals on Wednesday.Comment on this story
Along the Wasatch Front, Utah Transit Authority does not offer bus, streetcar, TRAX, FrontRunner or Paratransit services on Thanksgiving Day. Weekend service is provided the day after the holiday.
AAA offers a "Tipsy Tow" service Thanksgiving night through Friday morning. The holiday service is free tow and ride home for motorists within a 10-mile radius. A standard towing rate is charged for a longer distance.
"We try to provide an option for a safe ride home," Blasky said.