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Thanksgiving travel: Less traffic, but higher gas prices

Hitting the road for Thanksgiving? There's good news and bad news. Fewer travelers will be on the road for Thanksgiving this year, but gas price for those travelers are at record highs. 

By Richard ReadGuest blogger / November 17, 2012

In this 2011 file photo, cars drive along US. 59 in Tenaha, Texas. Fewer people are expected to hit the road this Thanksgiving holiday due to high gas prices and economic uncertainty.

Danny Robbins/AP/File

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We have good news and bad news for Thanksgiving road-trippers.

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The good news is, roadways will be slightly less congested than they were last year, meaning that you'll make better time getting over the river and through the woods.

The bad news? The drop in traffic stems from record-high gas prices, which currently average $3.43 for a gallon of unleaded regular. Not helping: lingering uncertainty about the economy, thanks in part to countless media headlines about the looming "fiscal cliff". And while traffic will be lighter on the whole, it'll be heavier in certain metro areas.

These predictions come from INRIX, a leader in the field of traffic data. According to the company's Director of Community Relations, Jim Bak, your Thanksgiving travel will be better in 2012, but it still won't be much of a picnic: "While traffic congestion over Thanksgiving will not be nearly as bad as years past, rush hour will peak 2 hours earlier than normal.  Our advice to drivers is to leave before 2 p.m.or wait until after 6 p.m. to avoid traffic getting out of town."

INRIX expects traffic to be worst in Los Angeles, where Thanksgiving road trips will take about 33% longer than usual. But as bad as that might sound, it's still an improvement over the 48.3% delay L.A. drivers experienced in 2011.

Other trouble spots include San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. -- though in each, traffic is expected to move more briskly than last year.

The same can't be said for Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, or Atlanta, where congestion will take a turn for the worse. INRIX describes those areas as "crossroads cities", blaming their traffic snarls on "commuters and holiday travelers converging on the roads at similar times".

Sadly, it doesn't get much better after Turkey Day: INRIX also predicts heavy traffic on Black Friday, thanks to travelers returning home and shoppers in search of bargains. The company recommends avoiding the roads between 11am and 1pm that day, since those two hours are likely to see the most congested roadways.

Are you staying put this Thanksgiving? Or are you heading to grandma's house for the holiday? If so, how are you planning to cope with the traffic? Let us know in the comments below. 

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