Anyone traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday should prepare for heavier-than-normal traffic, as experts expect the busiest travel weekend in New England in almost a decade and predict a record-breaking number of vehicles on the Maine Turnpike.

“I think this is the most Thanksgiving weekend travelers we’ve seen since 2007,” said Dan Goodman of AAA Northern New England.

Nationwide, AAA projects that 48.7 million Americans will drive more than 50 miles from home between Wednesday and Sunday, an increase of about 1 million travelers over last year. Most people will be driving to see family or friends, taking advantage of continuing low gasoline prices and an improving economy, according to AAA. The average price for a gallon of gas in Maine is $2.23, almost unchanged from a year ago, according to the price-tracking website

The Maine Turnpike Authority is expecting 40,000 more transactions at toll booths over the Thanksgiving weekend. That would put the number of transactions over the five-day period above 1 million, breaking the record of 983,000 transactions during Thanksgiving 2015, said turnpike spokeswoman Erin Courtney. As of October, business on the turnpike was up almost 6 percent from the record number of transactions set by that month last year, she said.

“We are definitely on pace to break records again this year,” Courtney said. “We always expect to see more traffic on the turnpike for Thanksgiving, and the fact that traffic this year to date is up, we wouldn’t expect it to be flat for the holiday.”

Traffic on many state-owned roads in Maine was higher this summer than it has been since 2008.


Even though Thanksgiving is a huge travel day in many parts of the country, it doesn’t rival the number of travelers on the turnpike during busy summer months, Courtney said.

“It’s not the busiest day for us,” she said. “There are weekends in August when we see more transactions.”

About 2.18 million people in New England will be traveling over Thanksgiving, a 2 percent increase over last year, according to AAA. About 87 percent will travel by automobile and 10 percent, 228,000, will fly.

The Portland International Jetport expects 24,000 more passengers than normal over the weekend. Like on the turnpike, Thanksgiving is busy, but still comparable to a normal day during the summer tourism season, said Assistant Airport Director Zachary Sundquist.

“Nationwide it is the biggest traveling time, but in Portland we see that in mid-to-late August,” he said.

The Transportation Safety Administration adds staff over the Thanksgiving and holiday weekend, and Sundquist doesn’t expect major delays at the jetport.


The Amtrak Downeaster service is also preparing for a surge in passengers over the weekend and plans to add a car to accommodate the overflow, said Patrica Quinn, head of the agency that runs the service.

“Wednesday and Sunday tend to be our busiest days, but we get anywhere from 200 to 400 more passengers per day during Thanksgiving week than we do during the rest of the month,” Quinn said.

Thanksgiving week also coincides with a new Downeaster service schedule that adds a third round trip between Boston and Brunswick. That service starts Monday.

Concord Coach Lines is also anticipating more passengers than usual. The bus line has added extra buses to accommodate college students leaving Maine campuses for Thanksgiving break.

For anyone worried about getting stuck in traffic, timing might make all the difference.

According to a Google analysis of historical traffic data, the best time to leave for Thanksgiving was 6 a.m. Sunday, four days before the holiday. The worst time to depart, according to Google, is 3 p.m. Wednesday. The ideal time to come home is 6 a.m. Friday, and the worst is 3 p.m. Saturday.


That roughly fits the busiest times on the Maine Turnpike. Peak traffic hours over the weekend are Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. In 2015, northbound lanes through the York toll plaza had more traffic on Wednesday by about 3,000 vehicles. Southbound traffic through the plaza was heavier on Sunday by about 4,000 vehicles, according to the turnpike authority.

“You’ll start seeing license plates from all over the country on the roads. When you start adding all those things up, there’s just no way around traffic,” said AAA’s Goodman.

“We encourage people to pack their patience, buckle up and drive distracted-free as traffic will be moving more slowly.”


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