The Fourth of July falls on a Thursday this year, meaning many people likely will take a four-day weekend and a lot of them will have the same idea of hitting the open road at the same time.

AAA estimates a record-breaking 48.9 million Americans will travel this Independence Day, about 2 million more than last year.

Region travelers — whether headed to the pristine beaches and wineries of southwest Michigan, Wisconsin's vacationland, or points farther flung — will face rising gas prices, heavy traffic and a lot of construction zones that will remain in place through the holiday weekend, including on Interstate 65, the Indiana Toll Road, U.S. 20, U.S. 421, U.S. 6, Indiana 49, Indiana 54, and Indianapolis Boulevard in Schererville.

They can expect traffic headaches and delays, such as with the ongoing I-65 concrete replacement project by Crown Point, where the 109th Avenue interchange ramps have been closed.

INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, forecasts drivers in major metro areas may face delays as much as four times a normal commute this Independence Day weekend with the worst traffic jams in the greater Chicago metropolitan area between 1 and 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

“With record-level travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays around our major metros,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Although travel times are expected to nominally increase throughout the week, hands down, Wednesday afternoon will be the worst time to be on the road.”

A record 41.4 million Americans are expected to travel by car this Independence Day weekend because of low unemployment, rising disposable incomes and relatively low gas prices compared to last summer, according to AAA. Overall travel volume is expected to jump 4.1% year over year with an additional 1.9 million people planning vacations or road trips.

“As Independence Day approaches, it’s time for the much-loved family road trip, and this year will be one for the record books, with more Americans than ever planning vacations,” said Nick Jarmusz, Midwest director of public affairs for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “This holiday builds on the strong travel demand seen for Memorial Day, and with schools now out of session across the country, families coast to coast are eager to travel.”

More than 1.15 million Indiana residents — roughly one out of every six Hoosiers — will hit the road this Fourth of July weekend, according to AAA. About 1.02 million of them will drive to their destination. 

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Part of the reason is that gas prices average $2.61 nationally, or about 23 cents less than a year earlier.

“Gas prices are, on average, 20 cents cheaper than Memorial Day weekend, which is welcome news for motorists hitting the road to celebrate the July Fourth holiday,” Jarmusz said. “More so, summer gas prices are poised to continue dropping even lower in coming weeks.”

Though lower than last year this summer, gas prices have been rising of late because of the hostilities between Iran and the United States over an attack on an oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz, which has caused crude oil prices to spike by about $7 a barrel over the past two weeks, Senior Petroleum Analyst Patrick DeHaan said.

The average gas price in the Gary metro, which encompasses most of Northwest Indiana, stood at $2.92 a gallon Friday, according to gasbuddy.com.

"That's likely not high enough to deter anyone itching to get out of town," DeHaan said.

"I would expect numbers that would rival Memorial Day since people will turn it into a long weekend," he added. "Back in May, GasBuddy polled out users and found 75% planned to take a road trip this summer. That's a 16% rise from last year."

The economy has been growing, unemployment is low, and people feel comfortable spending money, DeHaan said. 

"This summer is even busier than last year," he said. "People are planning more trips this year, and they're planning longer trips."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.