Chicagoans can expect heavy traffic, high gas prices for Memorial Day weekend travel

The Memorial Day travel rush is underway – and is expected to be the busiest it’s been in three years.

More than 39 million Americans are anticipated to travel 50 miles or more this weekend. 

The majority of travelers – 82 percent – will do so by car, and they'll be paying record high gas prices to fuel their trip.

Here at home — that number is even higher. 

According to AAA, 92 percent of Illinois residents who are traveling this Memorial Day will be getting behind the wheel. That adds up to about 1.9 million people.

"Whether they saved their money, and they’re ready to get out this Memorial Day weekend, everyone’s excited to go visit family and friends and get away for a weekend," said Molly Hart, spokeswoman with AAA.

For those driving, peak travel times Thursday were between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m., while on Friday, the roads are expected to be the most congested from noon to 7 p.m.

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"We are at 2017 numbers, 2019 were record high numbers, but yes, we’re very near the pre-pandemic numbers," said Hart.

According to AAA, there was a record 42.8 million travelers over Memorial Day weekend in 2019.

"We’re headed to Alabama," said Kelli Davis, who will fly there but plans to drive back. "We are packing up the vacation home, and we’re coming back on Sunday. It will be a round trip affair."

To help keep traffic flowing, the Illinois Department of Transportation has reopened certain lanes that were closed for construction. Those non-emergency closures will be suspended until 11:59 p.m. Monday.

For those taking to the skies – Thursday marked the busiest air travel day, according to experts with AAA.


At O’Hare, lines were long and passengers were eager for take-off.

"We’re leaving Chicago to go for the first time in three years over to Germany," said Robert Lane.

For many travelers, the weekend marks the first time they're taking flight since the pandemic started. Others, like Ronit Lodd and his family are wasting no time before diving right into summer break!

"School is just off," said Lodd, traveling to Croatia. "We’re going for about 10 days."

Despite long ticket and security lines at the airport Thursday evening, many travelers were worry-free.

"I have TSA PreCheck so I’m good," said Lisa Dennis, who was traveling to Minnesota. "We’re going to try to get the pontoon in the lake, because the lake is finally defrosted up there – pontooning, barbecuing and hanging out with friends."

When it comes to return travel, experts predict traffic on the roads will be the most congested on Monday, May 30 between 1 and 4 p.m.