Air, rails, roads carry heavy load Travel: It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without crowded airports, standing-room-only trains and jammed highways.

November 26, 1998|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Kirsten Scharnberg and Melody Simmons contributed to this article.

The Honsbergers wanted a nontraditional holiday, so instead of traveling through the woods to grandma's, they boarded the train yesterday with grandma -- bound for New York City to see Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

"We said we've got to do something different this year, said Jeff Honsberger, 39, of Ellicott City. He organized the trip for a group that included his wife and their two children, his two brothers and their wives and four children -- and his mother.

The group of 13 was among hundreds of thousands of people coming and going in Maryland this holiday weekend -- by train, plane, bus and car.

Travelers yesterday spanned generations as well as modes of transportation, sitting in strollers, sporting backpacks or hauling suitcases-on-wheels.

Grandparents were on their way to visit children and grandchildren. Parents were carting children to see relatives. College students were heading home.

At Baltimore's Penn Station, no reserved seats were available on northbound trains after 11: 36 a.m.

"Everything is sold out. There isn't a reserved seat to be had," said Patti Goldstein, a customer-service representative for Amtrak.

The crush began Tuesday night, which was "standing room only out of Baltimore" on unreserved trains, she said.

Amtrak said that from Tuesday through Sunday it would move 250,000 people through Baltimore and other parts of the heavily traveled Northeast corridor -- a number roughly equal to the population of Howard County.

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, officials expected 50,000 passengers to pass through the terminals yesterday -- and three times that many by the end of the weekend.

Yesterday morning, the crush was just beginning to build. The longest lines at the ticket counters -- at Southwest -- were less than 10 people deep.

"This is nothing," said Cindy Hermann, who was flying with her daughter from Connecticut to Tampa, Fla. "We expected a lot worse."

"It's early yet, though," Hermann said, carrying both her luggage and her daughter's. "I'm sure things will pick up this afternoon, and by the time we hit Tampa, I'm sure things will be absolute chaos. It's always that way on the holidays."

At the Greyhound bus station at 210 W. Fayette St., boarding lines stretched from one side of the terminal to the other by noon. The company was adding 60 buses to its normal complement of 75, and most were expected to be packed, said terminal manager Kedebe Tadesse.

The most daunting numbers were likely to come on Interstate 95 and other highways, where state officials predicted record-breaking traffic.

Over the five-day holiday period, about 602,000 vehicles are expected to pass through the toll plaza of John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, a leg of I-95 that spans Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties. About 247,000 drivers are expected to cross the Bay Bridge, said Elana Mezile, a Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman.

At the Fort McHenry Tunnel, backups began after yesterday morning's rush hour. Officials estimated that 637,000 vehicles would drive through the north- and southbound tunnels through Sunday.

Transportation authority officials, who oversee the state's toll facilities, also said special patrols are staking out parts of I-95 and other major highways to assist stranded motorists. Another patrol will look for aggressive drivers and passengers who are not using seat belts, Mezile said.

"We are preparing to keep traffic moving smoothly," she said.

One person who won't be behind the wheel this year is Odessa Pearson. Pearson, 65, of Southwest Baltimore was waiting to board a bus for her annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage to see her sister in Cambridge.

Pearson and her sister planned to begin preparing the feast shortly after she arrived. "We'll do some of the cooking tonight, like potatoes and ham."

Kerry Martin, a junior biology major at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a member of the school's basketball team, was waiting for a bus to take him home to Atlantic City, N.J., for the weekend.

Martin planned to do some reading for one of his courses on the bus, but said he would spend most of his time at home "hanging out with friends from high school and my family."

"I have a paper to write, but it's only a three-page paper. That'll only take me a couple of hours," he said.

Back at Penn Station, the Crescent from New Orleans brought home Russ Grimm of Timonium, a freshman at Limestone College in Spartanburg, S.C. He slept for most of the 11-hour overnight train ride and planned to "just take it easy" before returning to school Sunday night.

It also brought from Atlanta Edna Crenshaw, 49, and her 8-year-old son, Phillip. The two were spending the holiday with a classmate of Crenshaw's from graduate school at Georgia State University.

They planned a day trip to Washington while they were here.

"He thinks he's going to see the president," she said of her son.

The Crescent arrived about an hour after the Honsbergers left for New York.

"It's the first Thanksgiving I'm not cooking," said Joanne Honsberger of Sykesville, the grandmother of the clan.

The extended family's carefully planned trip included a pair of hotel rooms overlooking the parade route, ice-skating, tickets to an off-Broadway show -- and a return Friday night, ahead of the Sunday rush.

Said Jeff Honsberger, "We figured after three full days, we'll be pretty beat."

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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