California roads and flyways will be more crowded and stressful this Thanksgiving than they have been in years.
Sacramento International Airport officials say they expect more people to travel this holiday week than in any year since the recession hit in 2007, prompting them to issue warnings of longer, slower airport security lines and the potential that some parking lots will fill by midweek.
On the roads, traffic officials say the combination of an improved economy, cheaper gas prices and midweek storms could mean slow slogs Tuesday and Wednesday, especially on local freeways. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the mountains on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the California Department of Transportation warns of snow on roads at lower mountain elevations. Officials are asking motorists to hit the road early, be prepared and be patient.
Nationally, the holiday season got off to a troubled start over the weekend when several domestic flights were diverted amid terror-related scares in the aftermath of the recent Paris terrorist attacks. On Monday, the State Department issued a worldwide travel alert effective through Feb. 24 urging vigilance.
Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nico Melendez in Sacramento on Monday declined to say if the attacks in France have prompted the federal government and airports to increase security.
“We’re not going to get into the specifics of what’s been done and what’s not been done,” he said. “We don’t want to draw a road map for anybody that might want to do us harm.”
He asked airport users to keep their eyes open for anything that looks “out of the ordinary” and to report it to the TSA or airport or airline officials. “We have your back,” he said.
Air travelers are being asked to get to the airport at least two hours before their flight.
Capitol Corridor officials are telling customers to book their trains and buses now, especially connector buses from colleges such as Humboldt State and Chico State, saying they expect buses and trains to be very busy this week.
The holidays increase highway risks, as well, traffic safety officials said. Typically, the main risk is drunken driving. But officials this year are expressing concern about the number of adults in back seats who do not use seat belts. A national organization, the Governors Highway Safety Association, issued a report this week titled “Unbuckled in Back” that found 22 percent of adults in back seats fail to use belts and said it is a growing concern.
“Families traveling together at the holidays often means adults sitting in rear seats, where they may not be accustomed to buckling up in the same way they are when they get in the driver’s seat,” said James Hedlund of Highway Safety North in a GHSA press statement. “It’s important to remind folks that seat belts are there to protect them – in both the front and back seats.”
The seat-belt safety concern is heightened, GHSA said, as growing numbers of people use Uber, Lyft and other ride-share services.
“Too many adults mistakenly believe that they are somehow magically protected in the back seat when they get into a for-hire vehicle,” said GHSA head Jonathan Adkins. “Convincing adults to buckle up, every trip, in every seat will require a concerted effort among lawmakers and highway safety professionals, but the lives saved will be well worth it.”
Mark Lewis of Elk Grove, who drives for both Uber and Lyft, said he’s noticed that trend as well. Adults who get in the front seat with him automatically buckle up. “It’s instinctive, like tying your shoes,” he said. “But in the back seat it’s 50-50. If they don’t, I will always ask them to, and they do.
“I’m not sure why. Maybe they feel because someone else is driving, that person takes on the safety responsibility.”
Thanksgiving weekend road deaths were up 36 percent last year, to a total of 45 fatalities on California roads, the CHP reports. CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said this week that nearly half the people who died in crashes in the state during Thanksgiving week last year were not wearing a seat belt.
The CHP will put more officers on the road this week under a program it calls “maximum enforcement,” looking for inebriated drivers. The agency last year arrested nearly 1,000 drivers on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Caltrans Sacramento region spokesman Gilbert Mohtes-Chan reports that drivers will see “an easing of highway construction work during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.” Caltrans will open all available lanes in construction zones from 6 a.m. Wednesday through 10 p.m. Sunday.
A one-way traffic control will remain in effect, however, on the State Highway 160 Three-Mile Slough Bridge in south Sacramento County for an ongoing bridge painting. A traffic signal is in place.
Also, several closed ramps at the I-80 Across the Top project in Natomas and North Sacramento will reopen this week. The eastbound I-80 Truxel Road offramp and the westbound I-80 Norwood Avenue offramp are expected to be open for travel by Thanksgiving morning. No new ramp closures are planned over the holiday weekend.
“Motorists should continue to be work zone alert and those traveling over the mountain passes should check Caltrans Quikmap for the latest road conditions and carry chains,” Mohtes-Chan said.