Travelers brush off weather, warnings

Holiday business as usual at BWI and on area roads

December 25, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Maryland travelers slogged through Christmas Eve undeterred by rough weather and the heightened terror alert from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Highways, airports and train stations were busy, but traffic moved without major incidents.

"It's Christmastime, and we're excited," said Millie Brown of Dundalk, who was waiting at Penn Station with her 11-year- old son, William, and two bags of gifts for relatives in Philadelphia. "We don't want to think about all that security stuff now."

Many travelers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport expressed similar sentiments. But some, especially those headed to big cities, said the heightened security warning jangled their nerves a bit.

"I'm a little worried," said Chris DeLafuente of Corpus Christi, Texas, who had a layover in Baltimore. "New York's a big city, and it gives me a little concern."

Southwest Airlines, BWI's largest carrier, said it had no cancellations because of Sunday's raising of the national alert to "orange," the second-highest level on a five-color scale, or because of the warning from Homeland Security officials that terrorists might attack airliners.

"The lines were pretty long at the ticket counter, but no one was waiting longer than 25 minutes," said Christine Turneabe-Connelly, a Southwest Airlines spokeswoman.

The atmosphere in the airport seemed jovial yesterday, and many travelers wore red Santa hats.

"I have three kids to see in Jacksonville, and if I don't show up, they'll be mad. That outweighs any concerns I have about flying," said Terry Hoover of Shippensburg, Pa.

Other airlines at BWI reported heavy traffic, but check-in lines moved swiftly. Outside the terminal, Maryland Transportation Authority Police stopped cars for random security checks.

Most travelers said they didn't mind the delay. "I'm glad they did it because I don't know if I believe the airport is secure," said Charlie Adams, a Northeast Baltimore resident who dropped off his daughter yesterday. Adams said police spent about five minutes looking through his Volkswagen van.

BWI expects about 59,000 travelers a day to pass through the airport during the holiday season, up nearly 10 percent from the same period last year. "The public has become more accustomed to security requirements, so issues like delays at security checkpoints have been reduced," said Jonathan Dean, a BWI spokesman.

Amtrak police deployed two cars and a helicopter to check bridges, tunnels and tracks. Some trains were full yesterday, and there were minor delays, said Cliff Black, an Amtrak spokesman. Through the holiday season, Black said, police canine units are randomly checking stations and train cars for suspicious activity.

David E. Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said roads were more crowded Tuesday than on Christmas Eve. "Today was pretty quiet," he said. "But [Tuesday], people were doing one of two things: They were getting out of town, or they were visiting the malls."

Buck said he didn't expect a normal traffic day -- with a morning and evening rush hour -- until the Monday after New Year's. "The Christmas season is spread out, so it's not like other major holidays," Buck said.

AAA, the automobile club, estimated that 900,000 Marylanders will drive more than 50 miles during the holidays. "People are traveling more, by airline and by car," said AAA spokesman John White. He said a 20 percent decrease in the cost of gasoline since Labor Day -- to an average of $1.47 a gallon for unleaded regular -- is encouraging more driving.

Police attributed a number of Christmas Eve accidents to wet roads.

A three-car accident on a slick street in Columbia sent four people to hospitals, including one to Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Howard County police said a Cadillac exiting eastbound Route 32 onto northbound Broken Land Parkway skidded out of control about 2:30 p.m. and hit a van, which careened head-on into a Toyota moving south on Broken Land.

Also yesterday, a crash on Interstate 95 near Route 32 in Howard County shortly after 4 p.m. reduced southbound traffic to one lane.

Sun staff writers Larry Carson, Meredith Cohn and Jason Song contributed to this article.

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