While braving overcrowded airways, freeways and railways, holiday travelers still can be thankful for one thing: gasoline hasn't reached

$4 a gallon everywhere.

As those prices near their all-time high,

3.8 million Californians, or 79 percent of all travelers planning to venture 50 or more miles from home, are planning to drive to their Thanksgiving destinations, according to the American Automobile Association of Northern California. That's an actual increase from last year — by a fraction, 1.2 percent.

Overall, the 4.9 million Californians planning a Thanksgiving getaway represent a

1.3-percent increase over a year ago.

"High gas prices this year have definitely affected the way people travel, as has the economic uncertainty and the high cost of travel," said AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris. "Instead of driving 500 miles, they're choosing to drive maybe 150 miles ... but they're still finding a way to travel."

One route that will be less heavy than in years past is northbound Interstate 680 and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, which opened a northbound span this summer. Historically, the northbound was a nightmare for motorists on average traffic days.

"That new toll plaza has really streamlined things. We no longer see traffic congestion backed up well into Pleasant Hill, and there's a lot fewer fender-benders as a result," said California Highway Patrol Officer Scott Yox.

But drivers heading to the state's northern reaches and the Pacific Northwest be warned: Caltrans is predicting 20-mile backups on Interstate 5 because of continuing deck replacement work on the Pitt River Bridge, which will only have one lane open in each direction.


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One of the effects of increasing desire for travel is more crowded airports and commercial jets, with AAA's survey finding that 690,000 people planned to fly to their holiday destinations.

More that 350,000 people plan to use other modes of transportation, such as trains, buses or cruise ships, Harris said.

An increasing number are taking the entire week off, making Friday as big of a day as the traditional Wednesday before the holiday as the year's top travel day. San Francisco International Airport reported Friday as their record day, while Oakland International and San Jose Mineta International still showed bookings highest on Wednesday.

San Francisco has nearly 1.2 million passengers booked between Friday and Monday after Thanksgiving, said airport spokesman Mike McCarron. "This is our busiest since

9/11," he said.

Delta and Continental airlines are completely booked already for Wednesday out of San Jose, said airport spokesman David Vossbrink, while Alaska, American and Southwest are in the 90- to 95-percent range. The airport will be expecting some 450,000 travelers through its gates over its 12-day holiday period ending the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

"If you haven't made your travel plans, then you'll have to be creative and patient," Vossbrink said.

Oakland airport passengers will see a welcome change when they arrive: None of the construction that has tangled parking and drop-off areas and an additional curbside to manage personal vehicles, shuttle buses and taxis, said airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes.

The airport's $300 million renovation project, which began in 2004, ended about three weeks ago, she explained.

Oakland's airport, which is expecting 330,000 passengers for its eight-day peak travel period starting Tuesday and expects an average of 46,000 passengers that day, Wednesday and Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving, Barnes said.

For Bay Area residents who haven't booked and want to get to Southern California without driving, Amtrak is likely to have seats available until the 11th hour, said Vernae Graham, Bay Area spokeswoman for the national rail service.

The San Joaquin line, which offers a rail-bus combination that is several hours faster to Los Angeles than the delay-plagued Coast Starlight trains that go all the way to L.A. and San Diego, is adding extra cars and buses for the busy holiday crowd, Graham said.

Staff Writer Malaika Fraley contributed to this story. Reach Erik Nelson at 510-208-6410 or enelson@bayareanewsgroup.com and read his Capricious Commuter blog at InsideBayArea.com.