Officials urge caution on one of year's biggest travel daysby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — With thousands of Minnesotans expected to hit the road Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, transportation officials urged motorists to plan ahead for the weather and use caution in some areas that are still under construction.
Snow was a possibility in the southern half of the state, and flurries were expected in parts of northern Minnesota. The good news for drivers is that accumulation will likely be less than an inch in most areas, and forecasters said surface temperatures should stay above freezing, which would keep roadways wet rather than icy.
Still, the Minnesota Department of Transportation said its plows were ready to clear roads and apply salt and sand if necessary.
"They've got the plows on, they've got the salt and sand mixtures loaded," MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said of the agency's 150 truck stations around the state. "They've got vehicles out patrolling the roadways, so that we know when the roads are getting to the point where they might need some treatment we can get there ahead of it and take care of it."
Gutknecht said MnDOT expects traffic will be heavy Wednesday afternoon and evening, but he hopes people will drive cautiously.
"The nice weather we've had in November may encourage people to drive," Gutknecht said, "but weather can change very quickly."
Besides light snow or rain, motorists in the Twin Cities could also experience delays due to construction. The intersection of Interstate 35W and Highway 62 is still under construction, and that area is likely to get congested.
But Gutknecht said most areas in greater Minnesota are clear of construction.
"There are a few projects around the state, but by and large, it should be pretty good travel in terms of road construction," he said.
Several road construction projects opened to traffic recently, including the Highway 23 bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Cloud and Highway 169 in St. Peter.
Wednesday is the biggest travel day of Thanksgiving weekend, according to the AAA auto club, which each year releases estimates of the number of people expected to travel in the United States.
Among holidays, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July tend to have the biggest travel days, according to AAA.
This year, AAA said an estimated 38.4 million people will travel at least 50 miles away from home for Thanksgiving, which is a slight increase over last year. The overall number of people traveling is still about 25 percent lower than before the housing crisis and economic downturn.
"Gas prices at the pump that we were seeing were a little bit lower than they were last year, so a lot of people decided to move forward with their plans regardless of some of the economic conditions we saw over the summer," said Jennifer Brownlee, a spokeswoman for AAA Minneapolis.
About 86 percent of those traveling this year will go by car, Brownlee said.