“The outlook if you’re driving is pretty bleak,” said Sam Schwartz, a former New York City traffic commissioner and founder of Sam Schwartz Engineering firm.
While ridership on public transportation has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, car traffic has rebounded and truck volumes are at 110% of what they were in 2019, he said. Every truck on the road is equivalent to two to three vehicles.
From Tuesday through Sunday, more than 5 million cars are expected to cross seven bridges and two tunnels operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Traffic will create major bottlenecks at the crossings, according to David Schrank, senior research scientist at Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
The worst day for skipping town is typically Wednesday before the holiday, but heading out on Tuesday wasn’t expected to be a breeze, either. More people are choosing to start their getaway early, experts said. For flying, the busiest days are Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday and the Sunday after, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
Heavy travel at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports backs up road traffic around there. “During the holiday week, there is a domino effect in which highway after highway gets congested because of traffic to and from the airports,” Schwartz said, noting, for next year, that leaving the Monday before the holiday is probably the best bet.
The airport crush comes despite a 24% increase in domestic fares compared to 2019, according to Hopper, a travel booking app. The Transportation Security Administration estimates passenger volumes will be higher than last year and near 2019 levels, as 2.5 million passengers are expected to be screened at checkpoints nationwide on Wednesday, according to a news release.
In 2019, there was a record of nearly 2.9 million passengers screened the Sunday following Thanksgiving, the highest number since the agency’s inception in 2001.
Flights at Long Island MacArthur Airport are also expected to be full, according to Caroline Smith, spokesperson for the Town of Islip.
To get ahead of the crowds, experts said consider heading out very early in the morning. When possible, opt for alternative forms of transportation, such as the Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak.
There is going to be traffic bottleneck and congestion. Start early and be patient.
— David Schrank, senior research scientist at Texas A&M Transportation Institute
“I think it’s valuable to consider taking the train. It is faster than sitting in traffic on the Long Island Expressway. It is more pleasant because you can stand up and walk around and you don’t have to face drunk drivers or other hazards on the road,” said Sarah Kaufman, interim executive director at the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation.
No matter what mode of travel is taken, pack plenty of patience.
“This is the first Thanksgiving we’ve had where for the most part, most of the COVID concerns are behind us, so I think everyone is ready to go,” Schrank said. “There is going to be traffic bottleneck and congestion. Start early and be patient.”
Approximately 49 million people across the country will drive more than 50 miles to their destination, and the metro area will experience the worst congestion the day before the holiday, according to an analysis of traffic data done for AAA by Washington-based INRIX.
If taking the Verrazano Bridge, expect clogged roads getting there and getting off.
The westbound Belt Parkway will experience a 77% increase in traffic from exit 17 to exit 3. After that, the Staten Island Expressway, or I-278 south, is projected to have the area’s largest increase over typical travel volumes — a 158% increase from exit 13 to exit 22.
There will also be delays to the Queens Midtown Tunnel. The westbound Long Island Expressway will see a 21% increase in congestion westbound from exits 44 to 16.
Heading east won’t be all that great, either. INRIX forecast a 66% rise in traffic on the eastbound Belt Parkway from exits 3 to 17. The Long Island Expressway east from exit 13 to exit 32 is projected to nearly double over typical travel volumes.
Starting Wednesday, the Long Island Rail Road will operate 12 extra trains departing Penn Station between 12:45 pm and 4:15 pm The extra service includes four extra trains on the Babylon Branch, three on the Port Jefferson/Huntington Branch, two on the Ronkonkoma Branch, and one each on the Far Rockaway, Montauk and Port Washington Branches, according to a news release.
On Saturday and Sunday, the LIRR will operate its regular weekend schedule.
For Amtrak service At Moynihan Train Hall in Penn Station, riders can get a direct link to several out-of-town destinations, including Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC.
There are direct flights out of Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, but there are about 27% Fewer seats this year compared to last year.
We expect flights to be full. However, due to the current economic climate, we’re experiencing a reduction in available seats,” Islip Town spokesperson Caroline Smith said in a text message, adding that there are fewer seats at regional airports nationwide.
There are 11,000 seats this year from the day before Thanksgiving through Sunday to 15,000 last year during the same period compared. American Airlines, which stopped serving the airport in September, represented 5% of total seats daily, Smith said.
The Transportation Security Administration expects a busy week at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports through Sunday. Hopper ranked Kennedy Airport the eighth-worst airport nationwide for disrupted flights last Thanksgiving and over the summer. To hedge against potential delays, the app recommends booking the earliest flight of the day.
LaGuardia, Kennedy, Teterboro, Newark Liberty, and New York Stewart airports are predicted to see over 2.2 million flyers, the most since the start of the pandemic, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the facilities. Passengers should expect longer wait times at LaGuardia and Newark Liberty due to ongoing construction and potential TSA staffing shortages.
For a guaranteed way to escape Long Island gridlock and get to Manhattan there’s a 30-minute helicopter ride from Easthampton Airport, or a seat on a seaplane from Sag Harbor. Tickets on BLADE Urban Air Mobility average between $795 and $1025.
The Connecticut-bound ferries out of Port Jefferson and Orient Point can be an alternative to the Long Island Expressway and Interstate 95.
But the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Co. will be running at one-third less capacity through the Thanksgiving period due to one vessel undergoing required inspections, according to Frederick Hall, vice president and general manager.
He expected demand to exceed the number of spaces available and advised customers to book early, but said walk-on customers won’t be impacted.
The Cross Sound Ferry, which travels from Orient Point to New London, Connecticut, expects this week’s numbers will be at or above last year’s.
“The Thanksgiving Holiday is one of our busiest weeks of the year,” Christopher J. Anglin, facilities operations manager, said in an email.
While it might be tempting, cycling off suburbia is not exactly doable, according to certified triathlon coach and educator Robert McKeown, owner of South Shore Tri Coach.
“I think the risk is too high,” said McKeown, of Babylon, noting cold temperatures and traffic will pose a danger.
TAKING LIRR TO PARADE
Revelers can use 17 extra LIRR trains on Thursday to the Thanksgiving Day parade in the city.
- Expanded service includes six extra westbound trains originating on Long Island between 6 am and 7:45 am — two each on the Babylon Branch and Ronkonkoma Branch, and one each on the Montauk Branch and Port Jefferson Branch.
- There will be 11 extra eastbound trains departing Penn Station between 11 am and 1:35 pm — four each on the Babylon Branch and Ronkonkoma Branch, two on the Port Jefferson/Huntington Branch and one on the Montauk Branch.