And now, the trip home

Holiday travelers should brace themselves for heavy traffic later today, officials say

'Today will be the big return day'

July 05, 2004|By Todd Beamon | Todd Beamon,SPECIAL TO BALTIMORESUN.COM

Maryland drivers this Independence Day weekend can expect to find clogged roads later today, as many travel home from their holiday destinations.

"Obviously, today will be the big return day," said John White, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic in Towson. "It's going to get heavier as the afternoon goes on."

According to White, about 675,000 Marylanders were expected to travel 50 miles or more this Independence Day weekend -- including 605,000 residents who were to drive to their destinations. That's up 5 percent over last year, he said.

A "psychological boost" came from lower gas prices, which have fallen in recent weeks, White said. This makes this holiday weekend the busiest in a decade, he said.

Nationally, AAA estimated that 39.4 million Americans would travel this holiday, up 3.4 percent from last year, with as many as 34.4 million people driving -- 3 percent more than last year.

Tracy Newman, a spokeswoman for Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said about 7 percent more travelers -- a total of 514,000 -- were expected to come through this year over the eight-day period that began on June 30. BWI officials could not estimate how many people might be traveling today, she said.

"Friday and Saturday were the heaviest days," Newman said. "We'll have more traveling today than normal, but we made through those two days without incident, so we should be good today. It's been a very successful weekend so far."

Earlier today, Maryland State Police Sgt. William Jones in Essex said the region's roads were without major incident but braced himself for heavier activity later on.

"It's just like a Sunday right now, but we expect it to get pretty heavy later on," he said. Troopers in the Essex office patrol about 190 miles of roadway, including the Baltimore Beltway and Interstates 695 and 83.

Both Jones and White suggested that traffic will be heaviest between 4 and 8 p.m.

"If people are going to be traveling, we're hoping that they do it after 8 p.m.," White said. "Or, if they could do it before 8 a.m. tomorrow, that would be a good strategy."

Other advice for motorists include giving cars a quick once-over for obvious signs of problems before beginning a trip -- especially tires -- and keeping cellphones charged in case of problems, White said.

"You don't want to be stranded on the side of the road on a busy, hot Monday," White said. "Many people take their tires for granted ..., and you could easily pick up a nail. It might not be leaking now, but you never know. You don't want to be stranded because of something that could have been preventable."

Jones offered this advice: "Just obey the rules of the road. Courtesy goes a long way. With all those people out there, all it takes is a little ripple to create a big wave."

On the Net:

AAA: http://www.aaa.com

Amtrak: http://www.amtrak.com

Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov/public

Travel Industry Association: http://www.tia.org

Originally published July 5, 2004, 11:40 AM EDT

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