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Traffic is picking up heading into the 4th of July weekend, here's what you need to know

Traffic was down in 2020 for both Memorial Day and the 4th of July, but MnDOT says this year the roads will be busy.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Every road, no matter how big it is, or how many lanes it has, every road has a breaking point.

"The point where a road reaches capacity and starts to have more of those break downs and congestion,” MnDOT Traffic Operations Director Brian Kary says.

During the pandemic, Kary says most highways and interstates were well below that breaking point with fewer cars on the road.

But now...

"We're kind of teeter-tottering maybe back and forth between that congestion threshold, where it doesn't really take much of a difference to make things either congested or not,” Kary says.

That's why one day your commute could be 15 minutes, and the next day, 50 minutes.

With a lot of roads hovering around that breaking point, Kary says just a few people going out to get groceries, or staying late at work, could cause a ripple effect and lead to a traffic jam.

"Yeah, it could just take a few more vehicles to tip that scale and become more congested,” Kary says.

Overall, Kary says the traffic volumes during the evening commute are pretty much back to normal in the Twin Cities.

The mornings are still pretty light compared to where they were before the pandemic.

Kary says that’s likely because more people are spending their mornings at home instead of going into the office.

MnDOT is also expecting to see more holiday traffic over the 4th of July.

"I think we can learn a little bit from what we saw just this past Memorial Day. You know, last year there wasn't really a whole lot of congestion on either one of those two holidays, but this year we definitely saw a return of that memorial day traffic,” Kary says.

So, expect to see a lot of cars on the road this weekend, and probably a few brake lights and stop and go traffic.

"You’ll definitely want to head out early, allowing a lot of extra time,” Kary says.

If you're heading out of town, the best time to leave is actually Thursday morning.

Traffic will probably start picking up around 1:00 p.m. on Thursday and will likely stay busy until after dark.

The next best time to leave the Twin Cities is Friday morning before 11:00 a.m.

And then on your way back to the Twin Cities after the 4th of July holiday, Kary says early Monday morning is probably your best bet, unless you’re willing to stay an extra day and come back on Tuesday.

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