Marylanders on the go for Labor Day

485,000 to hit the road

record traffic expected for weekend at BWI

September 01, 2000|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

High gas prices and a forecast of bad weather are not expected to deter Maryland travelers this holiday weekend.

"People are working sunup to sundown five to six days a week, and they're putting a very high priority on vacation - we've seen figures all summer that prove that," said Myra Wieman of the mid-Atlantic office of the American Automobile Association. "Vacation is the one thing they're not going to give up."

And this is the last opportunity of the summer.

Nationally, about 34 million motorists will hit the road this weekend, according to AAA. Nearly 485,000 of them will be Maryland residents traveling 100 miles or more on highways.

Although air travel nationally is not expected to increase from a year ago, it's a different story at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

More than 250,000 people are expected to travel through the airport this weekend, 10 percent more than last year and a Labor Day-weekend record, according to the Maryland Aviation Administration.

Most of the increase is a result of Southwest Airlines' decision to add 15 daily flights out of BWI during the past year, said Jennifer Cassidy, a spokeswoman for the administration.

Rumors of a possible weekend walkout by Southwest's 5,000 baggage handlers over contract negotiations have been downplayed by union leaders. Southwest officials issued a notice to customers this week saying they expect no service disruptions. BWI officials said they have no indications of potential problems.

Today will be the busiest day at the airport, with an estimated 67,000 people traveling, Cassidy said.

In addition to urging people to use mass transit to get to the airport, she said, "We're asking people to really pay attention to signs so they know which parking lots are full."

She suggests that passengers arrive two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights. The BWI light rail station is still closed as a result of an accident there last month, but riders are being shuttled to the airport at no charge from the BWI Business District stop.

For motorists, the top destinations this weekend are the beaches - Ocean City, Md., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and North Carolina's Outer Banks - as well as Williamsburg, Va., and Gatlinburg, Tenn., in the Smoky Mountains. Weather is likely to determine when travelers will face the most congestion on the trip home, the AAA's Wieman said.

"If people wake up Monday and it's raining, they will just give up and go home," she said. "The traffic's going to start early."

Her best advice: Leave extremely early or, if possible, stay late.

With regular unleaded gasoline averaging $1.56 per gallon - 34 cents more than a year ago - some motorists will opt to stay close to home.

Instead of traveling the interstates, the State Highway Administration suggests that motorists consider some of Maryland's 31 newly dedicated scenic byways.

Maps and tour information are available on the SHA's Web site, www.marylandroads.com, or by calling 1-877-MDBYWAY.

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