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Semis and other motorists line Island Avenue in La Grande on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, waiting to get back on the road. An accident on I-84 east of Pendleton and dense fog caused ODOT officials to close the interstate for roughly four hours. Thanksgiving holiday traffic this year is predicted to be close to pre-pandemic levels, and travelers are advised to plan ahead for crowded airports and roads — and perhaps unexpected delays.

PORTLAND — Roads may be heavily congested again for this year’s Thanksgiving travels, according to projections from the American Automobile Association.

AAA predicts that 53.4 million Americans will travel for the holiday, which is a rise of 13% from 2020. With travel numbers nearing that of 2019, the projected boost in travel is expected to be the largest single-year increase since 2005.

“Travel is again high on the list for Americans who are looking forward to spending time with family and friends this Thanksgiving,” AAA Public Affairs Director Marie Dodds said in a press release. “But it means travelers should plan for roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded than what we experienced during the pandemic.”

The projections from AAA show that roughly 16.2% of the entire American population are expected to travel for Thanksgiving, while approximately 17.7% of Oregon citizens will traverse. That percentage comes out to about 746,000 Oregonians traveling for turkey day.

During the Thanksgiving holiday in 2019, approximately 49.9 million Americans traveled by automobile, 4.6 million flew and 1.5 million used public transportation. Due to a severe drop in travel due to COVID-19, in 2020 roughly 5.5 million fewer automobile travelers hit the road and air travel was cut in half by just over 2 million.

As this Thanksgiving approaches, AAA predicts that 652,000 Oregonians will travel by automobile and 86,000 will fly.

A steep rise in gasoline prices over the last year is having an impact on projections, but not to a large extent, according to AAA. Gas prices are roughly one dollar more per gallon than during last year’s Thanksgiving holiday.

“Gas prices aren’t keeping people home,” Dodds said in a press release. “Those who need to trim expenses will do so in other ways such as limiting dining out and looking for more budget-friendly choices in accommodations and other activities.”

With travel being expected to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, AAA is reporting that hotel rates are up nearly 50% and rental car rates have risen by about 4%. The top travel spots for AAA Oregon members are Anaheim, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, San Diego and Maui.

According to AAA, the organization will likely receive roughly 8,200 calls for road assistance over the holiday. The top issues involve dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.

AAA urges caution and planning ahead for this Thanksgiving, noting that busy roads and crowded airports should be expected. According to the organization’s website, those who travel by airplane should expect full flights.

The official Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Nov. 24-28. AAA predicts that the busiest travel days will take place on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

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