Expect higher gas prices, more drivers this Thanksgiving in Illinois
AAA’s Thanksgiving travel forecast predicts national driving rates will rebound to near pre-pandemic levels this holiday. For Illinoisans visiting family in the coming weeks, that trip will be cheaper if they can fill up out of state.
Thanksgiving will see 48.3 million drivers on the road as travel rates rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, according to AAA’s 2021 Thanksgiving travel forecast.
Illinoisans have good reason to head for the state line before they fill up.
Gasoline was $1.34 more per gallon Nov. 17 than a year ago in Illinois. Add to that Illinois taxes pushing the price per gallon at least 20 cents higher than any neighboring state, thanks to doubling the state gas tax in 2019 and annual adjustments for inflation. Illinois currently is 21 cents per gallon higher than Indiana and nearly 50 cents higher than Missouri.
AAA predicts the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers seen since 2005, with 3.8 million more Americans reporting travel plans. Despite gas being pricier than a year ago, 90% of the travel will be by car.
Chicago drivers are advised to avoid Interstate 290 westbound between Morgan Street and Wolf Road. That stretch is expected to see 329% more traffic than normal from 2:45-4:45 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips and this year will be no different even during the pandemic,” says Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX.
INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, said Chicago drivers will experience some of the worst congestion nationally heading into the holiday weekend, predicting more than double the delays versus typical drive times.
“Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon,” Pishue said. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”
The American Petroleum Institute found Illinois charges residents the second-highest gas tax in the nation at 77.96 cents per gallon with both federal and state taxes and fees combined.
The top spot was claimed by California, which charges 85.38 cents a gallon. Alaska was lowest at 33.38 cents.
While every state pays an 18.4 cent federal excise fee, the state excise tax of 39.2 cents makes up the bulk of the tax in Illinois after state leaders doubled it from 19 cents.
That doubled gas tax, intended to support Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s $45 billion infrastructure spending plan, has automatic increases every July 1. That allows state lawmakers to avoid voting on politically unpopular gas tax hikes.
Drivers then pay another 20 cents per gallon in additional state taxes and fees. Illinois is one of seven states that levies sales tax on top of gas taxes, which is essentially taxing the taxes.
With all these taxes and fees, the average Illinoisan will pay $11.55 in taxes for 15 gallons of gas. That average gasoline tax comes out to $408 per driver over the course of a year – $105 more annually than before Illinois doubled the gas tax in 2019.
The tax rates are even higher for Chicagoans.
Chicago charges city motorists $1.02 per gallon in taxes by including city and Cook County taxes and fees. Each fill-up includes $15.33 in taxes, which add up to an average of $534 in gas taxes a year.
This regressive policy imposes greater costs on Chicago’s low-income families who tend to drive older, larger cars that are not as fuel efficient.
Traveling through the Windy City also carries higher risks this Thanksgiving after Mayor Lightfoot lowered the ticket threshold for Chicago speed cameras to 6-9 mph March 1. A violation is $35. Speed at 10 mph over the limit and the fine is $100.
With travel restrictions still in flux, AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com are helpful resources travelers may use for free to understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S.