A Thanksgiving Nightmare for Holiday Travelers From Coast-to-Coast

Storms in the West, road construction in the East cause holiday headaches.

Nov. 23, 2010 — -- It's shaping up to be a travel nightmare for Americans from coast-to-coast, who are visiting family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday. Highway construction and Mother Nature aren't making matters easier for those taking to the roads, or the skies on the some of the busiest travel days of the year.

AAA projected earlier this month the number of Americans traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday will increase over 11 percent from last year, with approximately 42.2 million people celebrating away from home this year.

"During challenging economic times, there's usually a tug of war between the heartstrings and the purse strings," Troy Green, AAA national spokesperson said. "Because of the strong desire to spend time with family, usually the heart will win out."

On the East Coast, transportation officials issued a warning for motorists driving along I-95 as construction work continues on the Newark toll plaza in Delaware. Major delays that could stretch for miles are expected throughout the Thanksgiving holiday week, especially in Delaware and Maryland.

The northbound toll plaza will be down to six lanes instead of the normal nine because of a reconstruction project intended to make traffic flow through the plaza better when it is finished, likely in the summer of 2011. This holiday season, however, transportation officials in Delaware and Maryland say motorists can expect the usual bottleneck to be much worse.

Green said the AAA expects a record number of people to take to the roads this Thanksgiving season.

"We're expecting 94 percent of all holiday travelers to go by automobile," Green said, up 12 percent from last year.

"Check the traffic reports before you leave home," Green advised the 39.7 million holiday travelers who are going by car. "Americans who are driving to their holiday destinations can expect the roadways, the major arteries to be busy."

Meanwhile on the other side of the country, a vicious winter storm which dumped heavy snow on roads hit the Pacific Northwest and western states Monday. Freezing temperatures made for slick roads and a hazardous evening commute. Some people gave up after more than four hours stuck on the road in the Puget Sound region and turned back, spending the night in their offices.

The Navare family walked home Tuesday after spending the night stranded in a stranger's house.

"He was so kind as to offer us accommodation at his home so he called his wife and brought us home," Tommoy Navare said of the man who offered his home as shelter.

Cars off Roads; Planes Grounded

"You could see people sliding, there's people going really fast and I was intimidated, so I just parked it," she told ABC affiliate KOMO in Seattle. "I didn't even try."

Tuesday's morning rush wasn't much better, and state transportation officials urged those hoping to get a jumpstart on Thanksgiving travel to stay home.

On Tuesday, the state patrol in Washington launched a plane equipped with a heat-seeking camera to look for stranded motorists in an area stretching from Seattle, south to Olympia.

A record 2.5 inches of snow fell at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Airport officials said they were working to keep runways and taxiways clear, though a China Airlines Boeing 747 cargo plane landing in snowy conditions overshot its stopping point on the runway by about 100 feet.

Alaska Airlines Group warned that flights were being delayed or canceled because crews couldn't get to the Seattle airport, where the airline accounts for about half of the passenger flights.

"Our customers and our employees both are just having a bad time because the roads are really bad," Alaska spokesperson Paul McElroy said.

ABC News' Neal Karlinsky encountered a traffic headache of his own after picking up his mother from the airport in Seattle Monday. The normal 25-minute drive home was a "death-defying crash fest," taking almost six hours, he said.

KOMO meteorologist Paul Deanno said the storm will continue to impact holiday travel as it moves east. Blizzard warnings have been issued from Utah to Colorado, where drivers are being advised to keep survival kits in their cars.

"There's a definite likelihood that this storm may impact travel Tuesday, Wednesday, in places like Chicago, Minneapolis," he said.

The storm, which closed schools and knocked down power lines, is to blame for at least three deaths in Washington State.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.