Travelers set out to enjoy summer's end

More than 1.2 million cars expected on state roads for last holiday before fall

September 04, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Marylanders eagerly jumped into the year's last summer holiday travel weekend, as traffic backed up by yesterday afternoon on some stretches of highway and at the Bay Bridge.

Not even the threat of foul weather spun off from Hurricane Frances was expected to temper holiday travel.

More than 1.2 million vehicles are expected to travel across the Bay Bridge, through the Fort McHenry Tunnel or over Interstate 95 in Maryland this weekend, a 3 percent increase over the same period a year ago, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

And with 34.1 million Americans across the country expected to travel to vacation spots between yesterday and Monday, this figures to be the heaviest-traveled Labor Day weekend in 10 years, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

"The further we get away from September 11th, the more confidence people have, the more they want to return to normalcy like traveling," said AAA spokesman John White, explaining why so many people were expected to take to the highways.

Besides, after this weekend, classes will be back in session across all of the state's 24 school systems, a sign of autumn and cooler weather.

"When you talk about Labor Day weekend, it's a more psychological thing than anything else," White said. "It's your last three-day summer holiday before you get to winter."

Also helping boost travel are better-than-usual airline and cruise packages and lower gasoline prices nationwide ($1.87 a gallon) than a few months ago, although gas prices are higher than they were last Labor Day weekend ($1.69).

Motorists driving during peak hours should expect traffic delays and are encouraged to drive during off-peak hours, said Veronica Sinclair-Anderson of the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Sinclair-Anderson said there would be no major lane closures from construction, which should make driving more bearable.

Ocean City is expecting its usual rush of holiday visitors, said Mayor Jim Mathias, but the hurricane could force some people to cut short their trips.

"Once a hurricane enters the Atlantic basin, everyone pays attention," Mathias said.

Mathias said people concerned about the storm probably won't come to the Eastern Shore this weekend. But for everyone who does, the mayor said the city has a severe-weather plan.

"We have an extremely strong emergency management system, and we will monitor the weather for everyone and get the message out if need be," he said.

The Maryland State Police will conduct several enforcement operations, including a drunken-driving checkpoint in Prince George's County that last year netted 30 arrests in four hours.

State police officials also expect to see more motorcyclists on the roads.

"These last few weeks of summer are some of the heaviest travel periods for motorcyclists in Maryland," said state police Col. Thomas E. Hutchins. "I have directed Maryland state troopers to intensify efforts to enhance motorcycle safety."

Both the state police and Maryland Transportation Authority said they will have extra officers on the road to look for traffic violations and to quickly assist troubled motorists.

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