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Millions of Southern Californians are expected to hit the roads this Thanksgiving holiday as travel continues its swift rebound amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a AAA forecast.

Approximately 4.4 million residents are projected to take trips of at least 50 miles during November’s extra-long holiday weekend, which would make it the second busiest Thanksgiving travel period ever recorded for Southern California, an Auto Club news release stated.

The record — 4.5 million local travelers — was set in 2019.

This year, about 3.8 million Southern Californians will reach their destination by vehicle, making autos the most popular form of transportation for Thanksgiving by far, according to the forecast.

Nearly 500,000 travelers will fly, while almost 80,000 will go by another form of transportation such as train, bus or cruise.

Across the U.S., 53.4 million people are expected to travel this Thanksgiving, making it the third-busiest on record nationwide for the holiday, the Auto Club reported.

Heavy traffic anticipated

As in previous years prior to the pandemic, drivers will want to give themselves extra time to get to their destinations — especially those who are planning to leave the day before Thanksgiving.

Once again, Southern California freeways are expected to reach peak traffic on the Wednesday afternoon and evening preceding the holiday, according to INRIX, a transportation analytics firm.

The southbound 5 Freeway between Colorado Street to Florence Avenue is projected to be the busiest stretch in the Southland, with traffic predicted to be 385% above normal in the afternoon and evening hours, INRIX reported.

However, all outbound freeways in the Southland will likely be congested during the afternoon on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

“Drivers should expect longer travel times during those periods and plan to leave early,” the Auto Club’s forecast emphasized.

Higher gas prices

Along with lots of traffic, those heading to their destination by auto will also face the highest gas prices ever in Southern California for Thanksgiving.

California continues to have the most expensive gas in the country, with a statewide average of $4.62 for a gallon of regular unleaded (87), according to the Auto Club. The average is now just a nickel shy of the state’s record, which is $4.67, set back in the summer of 2008.

With a little over two weeks until Thanksgiving, the average cost at the pump is now above the $4.50 a gallon in most Southern California areas. That includes L.A., Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and San Diego.

That means motorists could pay at least $70 to fill up a typical 15-gallon tank, the Auto Club estimated.

AAA recommends drivers use its mobile app to find the cheapest gas in their area and to go to if they’re looking to calculate the estimated cost for your trip.

Most popular destinations

Curious where travelers are headed for the holidays?

Nationwide, Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim — home to Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort respectively — are projected to be the first- and second-most popular Thanksgiving destinations, according to AAA.

Locally, the top five destinations for Southern California travelers will be San Diego, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Santa Barbara/the Central Coast.