Crowded roads, crowded skies

Thanksgiving: Traffic of all kinds was heavy, but Maryland reported few glitches moving thousands of people into the holiday weekend.

November 25, 1999|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Marylanders took planes, trains, automobiles and buses yesterday to get home for Thanksgiving. But the big story is that the day travelers dread came off with surprisingly few problems.

Transportation officials throughout the region reported heavy crowds through most of the day -- said to be the heaviest travel day of the year -- but no major backups or delays.

"It's been like rush hour all day long," said Valerie Burnette Edgar, State Highway Administration spokeswoman. "It's heavy, but it's moving well. It's not catastrophic."

The SHA, which monitors highways throughout the metropolitan area, had roving emergency traffic patrols to help motorists with disabled vehicles.

Maryland Transportation Authority "vehicle recovery technicians" were standing by to help motorists on state tunnels and toll bridges.

For Bob Stower, a vehicle recovery technician at the Fort McHenry Tunnel, yesterday was much the same as all the days before Thanksgiving have been for the past 13 years.

Busy.

In the first half of his normal 6 a.m.-to-2 p.m. shift, he answered 20 calls from motorists stuck in the Fort McHenry tunnel, or on Interstate 95 nearby, with flat tires, overheated engines and empty gas tanks, twice the usual number for a whole shift.

"You've got to feel sorry for them," said Stower, who was working an 18-hour shift yesterday. "They're not getting where they want to go, the people behind them are stuck and they're mad and cussing them out."

In midafternoon, he towed David Henningsen's Ford Bronco off the Eastern Avenue exit ramp.

Henningsen, 23, a University of Maryland graduate student on his way home from College Park to Red Bank, N.J., noticed the needle on his temperature gauge going up as he got into the tunnel, and by the time he reached Eastern Avenue, his car sputtered off the highway.

"Guess I'm not going to get home now," he said.

Maryland AAA predicted that 525,000 drivers would be on highways in the state this weekend.

Smooth day at airport

Passenger traffic increased steadily throughout the day at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said John L. White, BWI spokesman, but there were no delays and no cancellations.

Except for the Graham clan from Virginia, whose Thanksgiving trip to Bermuda got off to a rocky start because no one told them their US Airways flight had been rescheduled and had left 90 minutes earlier.

Fifteen of them, wearing "I'm with stupid" buttons, camped out in front of the US Airways terminal with their 32 pieces of luggage.

They did crossword puzzles and played football while Billy Graham, the 78-year-old patriarch -- not the minister -- and his sons made alternate travel arrangements.

"It was all my idea," said Billy Graham, wearing an "I am stupid" button on the lapel of his navy blue blazer. "This was supposed to be a joke," he said, pointing to the button. "What we really need is to find the nearest bar."

Warning of strike

While the Grahams were arranging an alternate flight, about 100 US Airways flight attendants staged a rally at the airline's ticket counter to warn passengers of a possible strike.

Negotiations between the Association of Flight Attendants and the airline have broken down, and union members could strike within 30 days.

"We want to let our passengers know they may have to adjust their travel plans," said Robert W. Carlson, a union spokesman.

BWI officials said they expected 58,000 passengers to use the airport yesterday, and a total of 350,000 by the end of the weekend.

In Baltimore, Amtrak employees set up a makeshift check-in table at the front of the waiting room at Penn Station on North Charles Street, allowing only passengers with tickets to get past the information desk.

"It helps us manage the crowds," said Ken Wiedel, customer service manager. "We're doing it today and we'll do it again Sunday."

Wiedel said passenger traffic had been heavy all week, but "as long as the trains run on schedule, people come in and they go out without much problem."

No day for shopping

But on days when they're rushing through the station, they aren't in a mood to shop, said Elizabeth Able, who sells soaps, oils, perfumes, incense, artificial flowers and ceramic angels from her Perfect Scents cart in the lobby.

"In the last two days, I sold one flower, and that was to a little girl who was coming to meet someone," she said.

"People get up in the morning and say they're going to the mall and shop. They don't say they're going to the train station and shop," Able said.

"But I don't worry about it too much because I know it's only one day. We'll see how it goes Friday."

Sun staff writer Jackie Powder contributed to this article.

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