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Memorial Day weekend outlook: Travel delays expected; storms to cool down Utah temps

Motorists travel in Little Cottonwood Canyon on March 16. Memorial Day weekend is expected to result in an increase in travel, including people going into Utah's outdoors.

Motorists travel in Little Cottonwood Canyon on March 16. Memorial Day weekend is expected to result in an increase in travel, including people going into Utah's outdoors. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The Memorial Day weekend is often viewed as the unofficial start of summer, especially as school years come to an end and families look to travel.

AAA unveiled its travel estimates earlier this month, projecting that 39.2 million Americans will either fly or drive for this weekend, which represents an 8% increase from last year. The increase in travel is anticipated despite record-high inflation and gas prices.

Utah's national parks and outdoor spaces figure to be one of the state's popular destination targets this year, according to state tourism experts and national park rangers. After record-high attendance last year, some of these parks are currently busier than they were last year.

So if you plan to travel or stay at home for the weekend, here's everything you need to know.

Where road delays are expected

Motorists are forecast to account for most of the holiday travel. In fact, the AAA outlook estimates close to 90% of all holiday travelers will head out by automobile this weekend. Utah Department of Transportation traffic engineers highlighted the areas in Utah that will likely receive the highest congestion within this travel weekend.

Friday

  • Delays up to 15 minutes on northbound I-15 in Davis County from 1 to 7 p.m.
  • Delays up to 10 minutes on southbound I-15 in Salt Lake County from 2 to 5 p.m.
  • Delays up to 15 minutes on southbound I-15 near Nephi from 2 to 6 p.m.

Monday

  • Delays up to 20 minutes on northbound I-15 near Nephi from 2 to 7 p.m.
  • Delays up to 30 minutes on westbound U.S. 6 in Spanish Fork Canyon from 2 to 7 p.m.

Other areas of congestion

UDOT spokesman John Gleason said most of the agency's current projects will be suspended this weekend to help open all lanes and reduce traffic delays Friday through Monday.

However, there will still be some restrictions in work zones this weekend, to ensure safety. These may result in some additional delays.

  • I-70: The freeway is reduced to one lane in each direction between Cove Fort and I-15 while crews replace the driving surface and barrier walls on the I-70 bridge over I-15.
  • I-80 and I-215: Lanes are shifted on I-80 between 1300 East and 2300 East, and on I-215 between 3300 South and 4500 South in Salt Lake County. The southbound I-215 off-ramp at 3900 South is also closed while crews continue to work on improving the roadway in the area.
  • I-84: The freeway is reduced to one lane in each direction between Morgan and Henefer while crews continue pavement and bridge maintenance in the area.
  • U.S. 40: The highway's eastbound direction is reduced to one lane north of Heber City near Jordanelle Reservoir. Drivers should expect "heavy truck traffic" Friday afternoon as crews continue concrete pavement maintenance work and replace the driving surfaces of the bridges over the Provo River.

Where gas is the most and least expensive

Those traveling by automobile should also expect to pay more at the pump. The price of regular gas in Utah is about $4.60 per gallon heading into the holiday weekend, which is $1.25 per gallon more than the same time last year, according to AAA data Wednesday.

It is more expensive in some areas of the state than in others. For example, it's generally more expensive in southwest and northeast corners of the state, and cheaper in central and eastern Utah.

Five most expensive Utah counties

  • Piute: $4.90
  • Beaver: $4.85
  • Kane: $4.84
  • Daggett: $4.83
  • Rich: $4.82

Five least expensive Utah counties

  • Uintah: $4.50
  • Duchesne: $4.53
  • Sevier: $4.54
  • Utah: $4.54
  • Sanpete: $4.54

Utah itself is right on the national average even though the West has some of the highest gas prices in the country right now.

California's $6.07 per gallon leads the way, per data accessed on Wednesday. That said, other states west of the Beehive State are well above the national average. Nevada, Oregon and Washington all have prices exceeding $5 per gallon.

Areas directly east of Utah have some of the lowest prices in the nation. For instance, the average price in Colorado is $4.21 per gallon, which is 39 cents cheaper per gallon than both Utah's and the national average. Oklahoma has the cheapest gas at the moment, costing consumers $4.08 per gallon.

SLC airport getting closer to normal

Of course, some travelers will fly out to other destinations. Salt Lake City International Airport officials expect that travel will be closer to pre-pandemic levels this weekend.

They expect about 25,000 passengers to come through the airport's front doors on Friday; that number doesn't take into account connecting flights that will also come through on Friday. Estimates for Monday and Tuesday haven't been calculated yet. The Memorial Day weekend brought in a maximum of 28,600 travelers in one day back in 2019 for pre-pandemic comparison.

This showcases how long it's taken to get airlines back to pre-pandemic numbers, but that recovery could be made relatively soon.

"Projections are that the 2022 summer travel season is going to be a busy one, with Americans ready to get out and travel again," airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer told KSL.com. "(It) will be interesting to track."

UTA's schedule

For those using public transit this weekend, including TRAX to the airport, Utah Transit Authority will operate on a Saturday schedule this Memorial Day. That means there will be FrontRunner service available for the holiday, along with other forms of public transportation that also typically run on Saturdays.

What about Utah's parks?

Utah tourism experts expect there will be plenty of travel to Utah's national and state parks this weekend because, well, that's usually when visitation picks up.

Zion National Park may very well be the top destination. After it received 5 million visitors for the first time last year, it's already on pace for a busier year in 2022. Over 1.2 million people visited the park in the first four months of the year, which is about 14,000 ahead of the first third of the 2021 — and that's despite the fact that January visitation ended up with about 31,000 fewer visitors from January 2021.

The park received close to 500,000 visitors in April this year, which would have been a first. And Memorial Day weekend is expected to be as busy as ever, said Jonathan Shafer, the park's spokesman.

"If you visit this weekend, pack your patience," he said in a statement. "We want you to enjoy your visit and we want to be realistic about what you can expect during your time in the park."

Since the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is about seven miles long with about a dozen "well-known hikes," Shafer urges visitors to be prepared for delays. The park's vehicle entrance gates may also end up closed at points during the weekend to help reduce crowding and congestion.

People with their eyes on other outdoor gems across the state may up with similar delays this weekend. There's only one Lake Powell ramp open for most boat launches and all quagga mussel inspections; a labor shortage will also cause some delays in boat inspections near Bear Lake.

As for all outdoor locations, the Utah Office of Tourism posted a handful of useful tips for people planning to travel this weekend.

  • Know before you go. Plan a trip ahead and research your destination before you travel to account for any delays or issues that may arise.
  • Stick to trails and only camp in designated or existing campsites.
  • Practice "Leave No Trace" principles by packing out everything you pack in. Also, protect indigenous cultural heritage by looking and not touching any rock imagery and/or historic inscriptions you may come across.
  • Minimize any campfire impacts. Use a camp stove and put any fire out by drowning the ashes until they are cool to the touch.
  • Keep wildlife wild. Don't feed wildlife and keep a safe distance from wild animals.
  • Don't hog the outdoors to yourself. Share our parks, trails and roads.

Weather outlook

If you're staying put for the weekend but plan to attend an event or picnic, Memorial Day itself won't be as warm as the days leading up to it, especially in northern Utah. Thursday is forecast to be the hottest day of the year across the state as a high-pressure ridge moves in before the weekend, said KSL meteorologist Matt Johnson.

High temperatures are forecast to be in the 80s and low 90s across most of Utah Thursday and Friday. It may even reach triple digits in and around St. George.

That won't last long, though. Rain and cooler temperatures are on the other side of the system for the northern half of the state. This begins with some showers in northern Utah Friday morning, before more clouds, showers and cooler temperatures set in for the rest of weekend.

"If you've got holiday plans this weekend in the northern half (of Utah), you'll likely run into wind and even some showers," Johnson said.

The southern half of the state will remain mostly hot and dry. High temperatures are only projected to dip into the 80s on Memorial Day around St. George.

Full seven-day forecasts for areas across Utah can be found online at the KSL Weather Center.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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