How to avoid Memorial Day weekend traffic around Chicago

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Whether you’re headed out of town or staying home this Memorial Day weekend, you’ll need a plan to avoid the expected surge in traffic.

What’s happening: AAA estimates that 42.3 million Americans will travel during the holiday weekend β€” a 7% increase over last year.


  • That’s 2.7 million more people who will travel during the unofficial start of summer compared with 2022, Axios’ Sareen Habeshian writes.

If you go: Memorial Day road trippers nationally can expect to see the most traffic today from 3 to 6pm and Monday from noon to 3pm, per AAA.

  • For Chicagoans driving to Wisconsin on I-94, the worst time to leave is Saturday at 11am.

For those taking to the skies, you might feel a little more calm if your flight is out of O’Hare.

  • The airport ranked second-best in the nation for on-time Memorial Day weekend flight departures, per an analysis by Limo rental site Price4Limo. Midway didn’t make the top 20.

The intrigue: Gas prices are declining here ahead of the long weekend.

  • Chicago drivers paid an average of $4.22 per gallon of regular gasoline as of May 1, compared with $5.26 a year ago, according to AAA data.
Data: GasBuddy; Note: Price as of the 1st of each month; Chart: Axios Visuals

Flashback: Last year Gov. JB Pritzker announced a temporary gas tax holiday that some Republicans characterized as an election-year ploy.

  • That tax holiday was not renewed this year.

Zoom out: Gas prices set record all-time highs nationwide last year amid a broader inflation crisis, and driven in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which destabilized global energy markets.

  • Nationally, gas prices have risen slightly in recent months, but they’re still well below last year’s levels as we head into Memorial Day weekend.
  • The nationwide average price per gallon of regular gasoline has remained $3.53 throughout May 2023, compared with $4.60 a year ago.

Between the lines: The Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency waiver last month allowing the summertime sale of gasoline blended with 15% ethanol in a bid to suppress prices.

  • So-called E15 gas is typically avoided in summer due to smog concerns.

Be smart: Over the last decade, Chicago has seen the nation’s third-highest number of Memorial Day weekend traffic fatalities, just behind Houston and Dallas, according to federal data crunched by car insurance site Jerry.