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Nearly 113 million holiday travelers expected in U.S. as fuel prices continue to fall

Traffic flows on Interstate 630 in Little Rock on Tuesday ahead of extreme cold weather forecast later in the week.
Arkansas Department of Transportation
Traffic flows on Interstate 630 in Little Rock on Tuesday ahead of extreme cold weather forecast later in the week.

According to the AAA, 112.7 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home in the U.S. between Friday and Jan. 2. It comes as Arkansas is experiencing some of the lowest gasoline prices since May 2021, while cold weather and snow might affect holiday travel across the state.

According to the National Weather Service in Little Rock, areas of light snow are expected Thursday from northern into central Arkansas as a cold front moves into the state. Arctic air is expected to cause “bitterly cold temperatures and dangerously cold wind chills,” an agency outlook shows. “The Arctic front will move across the state Thursday, ushering some of the coldest air we have seen in quite a long time.”

According to the agency, the cold air is expected to remain through the week’s end. In Northwest Arkansas, the wind chill will fall below zero on Thursday night and Friday morning. Temperatures will fall below zero in parts of the Ozark Mountains on Friday morning. Statewide, temperatures will be below freezing during the day.

According to the AAA, about 102 million people are expected to drive to their holiday destinations this year, up about 2 million motorists from the 2021 holiday season. The number of 2022 motorists is in line with 2018 levels but down from 2019, when a record 108 million motorists drove to their holiday destinations.

“This year, travel time will be extended due to Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of travel for AAA. “With hybrid work schedules, we are seeing more people take long weekends to travel because they can work remotely at their destination and be more flexible with the days they depart and return.”

Air travel is expected to rise by 14% to 7.2 million passengers this year from 2021. In 2019, 7.3 million passengers traveled by air. Travel by bus, rail and cruise ship is projected to rise by 23% to 3.6 million people this holiday season from last year. That’s almost 94% of 2019 travel volumes.

INRIX, a provider of transportation analytics and insights, expects the most congested days for motorists to be Friday, Dec. 27 and 28, and Jan. 2.

“With pre-pandemic levels of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in and around major metro areas, with Tuesday, Dec. 27, expected to be the nation’s worst day to travel,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. If schedules allow, leave bright and early or after the afternoon commute.”

AAA spokesman Nick Chabarria said falling gas prices might encourage more holiday travelers. In Arkansas, gas prices fell for the fifth consecutive week and declined to the lowest prices since May 2021, according to the AAA. However, the AAA noted that a recent rise in crude oil prices could reverse the trend of falling gas prices.

Statewide, the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $2.69, down from $3.16 in November and $2.92 at the same time last year. Nationwide, the price is $3.14, down from $3.68 in November and $3.30 at the same time last year.

California motorists are paying the most at $4.37 per gallon, while Texas motorists are paying the least at $2.62 per gallon.