OCEAN CITY -- Mainlanders began their annual beach stampede yesterday, speeding over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge the rate of about 3,000 per hour by early yesterday afternoon.
Most were really . . . inahurry, roaring from home to beach in a cloud of greenhouse gases.
Take Carty Mesnard, 17, and Greg Powell, 16, of Columbia. They claimed to have ripped along in their red Jeep at about 75 mph for most of the route, slowing only for the road construction on U.S. 50 near Annapolis and later near the intersections in Salisbury.
"We've been lucky," Mr. Mesnard said. "The cops were all going the opposite way or they already had somebody pulled over when we passed." Lucky, too, he added, that the Jeep was equipped with a radar detector.
Donnie Tucker, 20, of Harwood sat outside the McDonald's on U.S. 50 with the motor running on his blue pickup with "Donnie" written in ribbon-style script on the driver's door.
What propelled him to drive to the beach on one of the busiest weekends of the year? "Women," spat the already deeply tanned Mr. Tucker, a mechanic's helper.
Mr. Tucker's passengers, three young ladies, emerged from the fast-food franchise and piled in the truck. "We're going to scheme up on guys," announced Jannie Riggans, 16, a student at Glen Burnie High School. Scheme? "Like to scope out the scene, to scope out the guys, to look and not to touch," explained Dianna Schriver, 18, of Severna Park.
Until this year, the worst beach bound bottlenecks traditionally occurred at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the Kent Narrows drawbridge and at the signals along U.S. 301/50 through Grasonville. Now, thanks to several major highway construction projects completed in the past year, that stretch of road is far more driver-friendly.
The bridge has two new eastbound tollbooths. Kent Narrows has a six-lane fixed bridge that looms over and bypasses the old drawbridge. And the last Grasonville intersections were replaced overpasses this week.
Traffic slowed at the signals in Salisbury. But the worst snarl this year appeared to be on the western shore. Mainlanders found themselves caught in 17 miles of rolling backups yesterday afternoon along U.S. 50 from the Prince George's County line to Cape St. Clair Road, north of the new Severn River Bridge. Construction work was to blame.
Jason Rinehart and Michael Amspacher, both 20 and from the York, Pa., area, inched through the backup only to have their late-model Plymouth Horizon TC3 sputter and die by the shoulder of U.S. 50 north of Cape St. Clair Road.
Mr. Amspacher said they started off early to try to avoid problems. "I think we were a little off on that," he said, smiling and shaking his head.
Cpl. Douglas MeGee of the Maryland State Police, who was answering the phone in the state Traffic Operations Center at the Bay Bridge, said people would motor to Ocean City over the Memorial Day weekend no matter how bad the traffic was.
"We could tell these people there's a six-lane backup," he said. "They're going to go. I don't know why they call."
Judy McIntyre of Pasadena, a 40-year-old toll taker, said that as usual, beachbound motorists were in a good mood, happy to be making their escape for the long weekend.
Toll workers used to take a lot of grief on Memorial Day, she added, when a toll was collected in both directions. (Now, it is collected only eastbound.)
"When they came through on Friday, they were in a good mood," she said. "When they came back,they were tired, sunburned and had no money left. They weren't happy at all."
Where to call
For round-the-clock information about traffic flow at the Bay Bridge, call the state police Traffic Operations Center at (800) 541-9595.