Taking the slow road to Annapolis Navy football game, boat show combine to snarl traffic

October 12, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

It was more than 30 minutes after kickoff before Kent Johnson, the Air Force Academy's chaplain, made it to the Navy-Air Force football game at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis yesterday.

Johnson, who travels with the football team to pray and root for players from the sidelines, was driving from Glenarden to Annapolis. The trip ordinarily takes 30 minutes, but yesterday -- with state police reporting a traffic backup on U.S. 50 as far west as Route 424 at one point -- it took more than an hour.

"I should be in the field with them right now," Johnson said as he walked briskly toward the stadium entrance. "The papers said it would be bad, but I didn't expect it to be quite this bad."

Johnson was among the thousands of people who suffered in traffic congestion as they drove to Annapolis yesterday.

Take the U.S. Sailboat Show, with an estimated crowd of 10,000, add the sold-out Navy-Air Force football game bringing more than 36,000 fans to the city, and toss in various events along the Eastern Shore, including a beer festival in Cambridge and powerboat races in Ocean City, and it's a recipe for gridlock on U.S. 50 heading to Annapolis.

Drivers also reported backups of a few miles on Interstate 97 heading south toward U.S. 50 in the morning.

Even so, elaborate plans to control traffic limited Annapolis-area congestion, said Jeff Holland, a boat show spokesman.

Holland said boat show organizers, the Naval Academy Athletic Association, the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Visitors Center, Annapolis police, Maryland State Police and the State Highway Administration had gotten together to work out ways to lessen congestion.

They created a jingle to encourage people attending the boat show and football game to take different exits to ease traffic on U.S. 50: "If boats are for you, Exit 22. To see Navy score, Exit 24."

"Our goal was to separate boat show traffic from Navy game traffic at the earliest possible moment," Holland said. "And the best time to do that, we thought, was from Exit 22, the Aris T. Allen Boulevard exit. And it's seemed to work."

Those efforts, added signs on U.S. 50 and extra police and city community service officers stationed on Rowe Boulevard to direct traffic combined to make congestion in downtown Annapolis about the same as on any other Saturday.

On the water, said Rick Dahlgren, the city's harbor master, all was calm, too. He had an extra patrol boat out yesterday because this weekend is usually the busiest of the year, with many people sailing south to Florida and the Bahamas docking at Annapolis for about a week.

Cindy Edson, marketing director for the visitors center, said the last time the boat show was on the same weekend as the popular Navy-Air Force game was about three years ago, when "there was not a cohesive attempt made between the events, the city and us."

"With Navy coming off a banner year last year and the boat show's attendance getting larger every year, at some point you just have to say, 'What's the best way to serve the people coming here, and let's prepare for it,' " she said.

Even so, many people driving into Annapolis were caught in a jam.

"We didn't know there was a game today," Case Rotenburg said glumly in his stopped car on Rowe Boulevard. He was driving from York, Pa., with his wife to attend the boat show and got caught in heavy traffic on U.S. 50.

"We just saw the signs for it on the highway," he said.

Racing toward the stadium entrance more than half an hour after the game started, Kit Bobko, a 1991 Air Force Academy graduate, and seven friends from the Washington area said they had been stuck in traffic on U.S. 50. Their trip and a long search for parking had taken close to two hours.

Some fans had it easier.

Khoi Tennies, a 1990 Naval Academy graduate, searched for a good route from his friend's Pasadena home to avoid getting stuck in traffic. Route 2 was clear, even though the game was about to start, and his journey took about 20 minutes.

Noelle Lotano of Lynchburg, Va., and friend Jeff Eichmann of Washington, who had planned to spend the day in Annapolis shopping and looking around, did not know about the boat show and the game and were stunned by the heavy traffic.

"We just drove on the shoulder for about three miles," Lotano said. "Otherwise, it would have been pretty bad."

But when they got to the city, they drove around for about half an hour before finding a place to park. They finally paid $25 to park at the Marriott hotel.

Aida Cipriani of Annapolis said visitors to the city should know what to expect when the Navy-Air Force game rolls around.

"Annapolis was built in, what, the late 1600s?" said Cipriani, a Navy fan who has been going to games since 1979. "It's not built for this volume of traffic, but anybody who goes to Navy games knows that this is part of it. It's a little inconvenience for a great time."

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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