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Millions Of Thanksgiving Travelers Hit The Roads, Rails And Skies

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Millions of Americans hit the roads, rails and skies Wednesday ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, one of the busiest travel days of the year.

On Wednesday evening, gridlock near LaGuardia Airport was so bad some bus drivers told passengers to walk the final half-mile there or risk missing their flights, CBS2's Tony Aiello reported.

"We got off early because they said it would take about 40 minutes to get to the airport or five minutes walking," one traveler said.

"Trying to get to the airport as soon as possible, so hopefully I'll make it on time," fellow traveler Veronia Rogala said.

At Penn Station, a couple heading to Boston had a bottle of wine to celebrate their recent engagement.

There were a few delays on the board, including their train.

"Yeah, it's going to be a late night, but you know we'll I guess have a fun time at Penn Station until we get on," Jessie Raithal said.

Amidst all those going out of town, Suzanne Manso came in from Long Island with her dog Sunny to see family on the Upper West Side.

"Everybody was really nice, just excited to be going into the city and having a nice time with their families," she said of her trip on the LIRR.

A few blocks away, a big crowd gathered on 34th Street waiting for buses, some of which were stuck in traffic.

"Normally, should be three to three and a half hours," passenger Sahony Ramos said of her drive to Providence, Rhode Island. Tonight she expects it will be more like five or six.

This year, AAA says 48.7 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving. Higher wages and lower gas prices means people are spending more and getting behind the wheel.

"Eighty-nine percent by car," said Robert Sinclair with AAA. "Historic gas prices, the lowest we were back in 2007 at $2.05, that's the national average, with $2.17 now."

CHECK: Traffic & Transit

Driver Mark Ellis is covering the entire state of Virginia this weekend.

"Springfield, Richmond, Wakefield, Virginia Beach, then DC then back home," he told CBS2's Magdalena Doris.

But in New Jersey, a recently enacted 23-cent a gallon gas tax took driver Gina Robeson of Maryland by surprise.

"You know, for three people traveling it is still cheaper than flying and it gives us the flexibility to stop," she told WCBS 880's Marla Diamond. "So it's either a baggage fee or a gas tax."

A gallon of regular will set you back $2.26 in the Garden State.

Many drivers early Wednesday morning were taking a break at the Vince Lombadri rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Cars with plates from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, all of New England, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida and even Oregon could be seen in the parking lot, 1010 WINS' John Montone reported.

Sinclair said if you are hitting the roads, the worst time to go is Wednesday.

"The day before, getaway day, everybody hits the road en mass," he said.

But if you must drive, AAA says head out early.  

Nationally, there will be 800,000 more people driving for the holiday than last year, including 2.6 million drivers in New York state, John Corlett, also with AAA, told WCBS 880's  John Metaxas.

If you have to hit the road on Thanksgiving Day, Corlett said you should leave by 10 or 11 a.m.

"We've actually looked at Throggs Neck and Whitestone for example, the delays get longer, you have the occasional driver who hasn't bought an E-ZPass, which I don't know why -- you can save money," he said.

"However this coming Sunday, that's the crunch day that when everybody seems they want to come back," said CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg.

The NYPD will also be cracking down on drunk or distracted drivers.

And despite higher airfare prices, 3.5 million people will take to the skies over the holiday. Around 60,000 people are expected to pass through checkpoints at Newark Liberty Airport on Wednesday alone, WCBS 880's Kelly Waldron reported.

"The goal is, of course, to get them to their destinations safely, so we ask them to help us by following the protocols that we set forth," Lisa Farbstein, of the Transportation Security Administration, said. 

At Newark, new technology is lending a hand.

"Instead of waiting for the person in front of you, you step up to the next empty slot," said Farbstein. "Up to 30 percent more efficient."

With the streamlined checkpoints, bags and passengers were able to pass without incident early on.

"It's not bad, I was expecting it to be a lot worse," one man told 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck.

"We've just got here for 20 minutes and we're already at the line, so it's great," another passenger said.

But Farbstein still recommends that travelers build extra time into their plans.

"This is going to allow you enough time to navigate the roadways around the airport, to find parking, to have time to check your baggage, to get your boarding pass," she said.

The same can't be said for passengers making their way to LaGuardia, where traffic was compounded by ongoing construction.

Only a small fraction of national travelers will hit the railways and other modes of transportation. Even so, it's Amtrak's busiest time of year.

"We make sure that we have all of the equipment that Amtrak owns in good working order, and we add trains and we add cars to existing trains. So we put just as much capacity as we possibly can out on the railroad to handle the crowds," Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman told WCBS 880's Rich Lamb. 

At Penn Station Wednesday, the platforms and tunnels were packed with passengers, along with Amtrak police officers, National Guard soldiers and bomb sniffing dogs, Lamb reported.

The MTA is also getting a head start on holiday travel offering extra train service on the Long Island Rail Road and the Staten Island Railroad.

It is also suspending all routine construction work on the MTA bridges and tunnels to accommodate the crowds.

NJ TRANSIT is offering earlier trains and buses as well.

In addition to heavy travel, there was also a rush to get Thanksgiving supplies Wednesday night.

At Stew Leonard's in Yonkers, employees restocked the fresh turkey shelves every two hours.

But the Ferrara family, too busy to cook, picked up a catered bird and a tray of lasagna.

"We're going to make some sides and we have in-laws coming over, we're going to have a great time! It's going to be a great Thanksgiving," Rob Ferrara, of Eastchester, said.

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