The hustle and bustle of the holiday season swings into full gear starting Wednesday afternoon as scores will hit the roads for the Thanksgiving weekend. AAA says more than 42 million motorists will take to the highways and byways over the five-day weekend.

The worst time to travel will be between 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesday as travelers start their exodus while last-minute Charlies dash to the supermarket to get their necessary provisions. And then, there's Black Friday. See tips below.

Be sure not to drink and drive. Law enforcement kicks off a drunken driving campaign Wednesday, and it runs weekends through New Year's. Here is a story about a woman who lost her mother in a drunk driving crash that should compel all of us to drive sober.

Expect extra traffic in downtown St. Paul Wednesday night, Friday afternoon and Saturday night as the Minnesota Wild have home games at the Xcel Energy Center.  The Timberwolves play at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Target Center, and then the Shrine Circus takes over the arena for shows Friday through Sunday.

Transit riders will want to check schedules as Metro Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit, SouthWest Transit and Maple Grove Transit will follow holiday schedules on Thursday and for the most part weekend service Friday through Sunday.  Plymouth Metrolink will operate from park and ride lots only on Friday. See details below.

Flying for the holiday? Be sure to get to the MSP Airport 90 minutes before flight time to allow ample time to park and get through security. See more tips below.

Transit schedules

The Metro Green and Blue Line trains will follow a holiday schedule on Thanksgiving Day and regular weekend schedule Friday through Sunday. That means trains will run roughly every 15 minutes.  The Northstar line won't run on Thursday, and will follow a reduced schedule on Friday:

  • Trips to downtown, leaving Big Lake Station at 5:00, 6:18 and 7:18 a.m. and 1:03 p.m.
  • Trips to Big Lake Station, leaving Target Field Station at 6:15 a.m., and noon, 2:00 and 3:57 p.m.

Bus riders also will find fewer trips available Friday, but will pay the weekend fare instead of regular weekday fares. Being that Friday is a work day for some, Metro Transit will supplement the Saturday schedule with extra trips on selected routes. You can find that information here.

The Transit Information Center will be closed Thursday. Trip planning experts will be on duty from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday in addition to the regular 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 612-373-3333.

Minnesota Valley Transit:  Routes 440, 444 and 445 will follow Saturday schedules on Friday,  Extra trips will be added on Routes 446, 460 and 477.  The Metro Red Line will follow a weekend schedule Friday through Sunday.

Maple Grove Transit says it will operate "a drastically reduced service schedule"  on Friday.  Routes 780, 781A, 782, 783, 785, 788, and 789 will not operate.  Route 781 will run between the Maple Grove Station and downtown Minneapolis on Friday.  

SouthWest Transit will provide limited service on Route 694 on Friday and express service from its three park and ride lots only: East Creek Station, SouthWest Village and SouthWest Station. There won't be service on SouthWest Prime.

Friday shopping

While Black Friday deals actually begin Thursday night, the day after Thanksgiving still promises to be busy, at least in the morning hours into the early afternoon. Roads leading to the bigger malls are likely to be jammed, but not impossible to navigate.  The global traffic-tracking company INRIX say the Mall of America will be busiest between noon and 3 p.m. and that it will take 15 percent longer than normal to get into and out of the Bloomington megaplex when traffic is worst between 2 and 3 p.m.

Here's are a couple of tips to avoid a parking lot hassle from Farmers Insurance and the National Safety Council. Follow them and you could save a date with the adjustor.

  • Don't park near cart returns
  • Park near a curb to limit exposure to other vehicles
  • Avoid tight parking spaces as 25 percent of parking lot mishaps are blamed on poor backing techniques
  • Use only official road ways; don't cut through parking lots and empty spaces
  • The farther away from the door you park, the less opportunity you have to hit or get hit by somebody.
  • Finally, be sure to drive slow around malls to give yourself more time to react to sudden hazards.

Holiday travel

So leaving Wednesday is absolutely the worst while postponing your exodus until Thursday could be beneficial. Thursday usually features the lightest levels of traffic.   Friday is not bad, according to Google Maps and Waze, the popular traffic app. By Saturday, and especially Sunday, the roads will start filling up again.  The best advice for any travel comes from AAA's President and CEO, Marshall Doney: Pack lots of patience.

Locally, weather could be a factor as a system threatens to drop a mix of snow and rain across southern Minnesota and parts of the Midwest.  The good news is that road construction has wrapped up for the season, so don't expect to see much orange out there.

Locally, traffic promises to be thickest on popular getaway routes such as I-94 to the east and west, and I-35 to the north and south during peak times. Avoiding freeways won't mean a faster or hassle-free trip. Alternate routes are just that. Savvy motorists know ways to get around known bottlenecks, but there are no undiscovered routes. Others know the secrets, too.

Going by air

Airports tend to be jammed during the Thanksgiving weekend. AAA estimates that 3.6 million people will fly over the course of the five-day holiday period.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport tends not to be as busy as other airports during Thanksgiving holiday period as many make their escape during MEA weekend in October, airport spokesman said Patrick Hogan.

With business travel on the light side, on-site parking generally is not a problem, he said.

Nonetheless, travelers should still arrive 90 minutes early as security lines tend to move slowly as many inexperienced travelers and those families with children flying. The folks at MSP Airport also offered thise tips:

  • Save time by printing your boarding pass at home.
  • There is ample parking at both terminals during the holidays. Cost-conscious travelers can save $8 per day, compared to General Parking at Terminal 1─Lindbergh, by parking in the Quick Ride Ramp at Terminal 1, located off Highway 5 at the Post Road exit or at Terminal 2─Humphrey (Metro Transit offers FREE light rail service between terminals).
  • Roadways in front of the terminals get very busy due to the number of people picking up and dropping off travelers during the holidays, so consider saving yourself some hassle by parking in the short-term ramp and sending off or welcoming your loved ones in style. Short-term parking only costs $3 for the first hour.

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