Winter weather and heavy Thanksgiving travel is expected to bring delays to Utah freeway travel this week — and has led to the closure for the year of many seasonal roads.
Adding to the holiday travel travails is that gasoline prices in Utah are currently among the highest in the nation, about 36 cents a gallon higher than the average nationally.
The Utah Department of Transportation warned Monday that its engineers project delays of up to 30 minutes on Interstate 15 on Wednesday as many people travel early for the Thanksgiving holiday. They expect 15-minute delays on Sunday when many people return.
Holiday traffic is expected to be the heaviest on I-15 along the Wasatch Front on Wednesday between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., so UDOT advises leaving early in the day or late in the evening to avoid delays. It warns that winter storms are expected that day, which could make delays worse.
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, delays are expected be the heaviest from 3 to 7 p.m.
UDOT urges preparation for winter driving including checking tires for proper tread, ensuring batteries have sufficient charge and cranking power, keeping a brush and scraper to keep windows clean, and packing an emergency kit with blankets, jumper cables, food, water and a cellphone charger.
UDOT will suspend construction on most projects and open all lanes to help reduce delays during the Thanksgiving holiday. However, existing lane restrictions and traffic shifts will remain in place in several areas.
Drivers should plan on lane restrictions and delays on I-15 from Ogden to Layton; in Murray at the I-215 interchange; and in Lehi.
Also, the Arizona Department of Transportation has reduced I-15 to one line in each direction in the Virgin River Gorge south of St. George for bridge maintenance. That has caused delays of 30 minutes or more on other recent holidays.
Winter weather also has closed several seasonal mountain highways for the year, including State Road 65, the Big Mountain Highway (from Emigration Canyon to East Canyon State Park); Guardsman Pass from Park City to Midway and State Road 190 from Big Cottonwood Canyon to Park City; the Alpine Loop in American Fork Canyon; and State Road 148 around Cedar Breaks National Monument.
The Monte Cristo Highway from Huntsville to Woodruff is scheduled to close early Tuesday.
The projected delays come as AAA travel services projects the second-highest Thanksgiving travel season ever this year — with more than 55 million Americans traveling more than 50 miles for the holiday, up an expected 2.9% from last year.
“Strong economic fundamentals are motivating Americans to venture out this holiday in near-record numbers,” said Paula Twidell, vice president of AAA Travel. “Consumer spending remains strong, thanks to increasing wages, disposable income and household wealth, and travel remains one of their top priorities for the holiday season.”
AAA also reports that gas prices in Utah are among the highest in the nation as the big-travel holiday approaches.
On Monday, AAA reported that the average price for regular unleaded gasoline in Utah was $2.953 a gallon — or 36.3 cents a gallon higher than the national average of $2.59 a gallon.
Utah’s gasoline prices were eighth highest among the states. The highest average price among the states is $3.865 a gallon in California. The lowest is $2.217 in Louisiana.
AAA reported that the cheapest gasoline among Utah’s counties was in Sevier at $2.872 a gallon. The most expensive was in Piute, at $3.219 a gallon.
Along the Wasatch Front, AAA said average prices were $2.928 a gallon in Salt Lake County; $2.936 in Utah County; $2.940 in Weber County; and $2.949 in Davis County.