Smooth weekend of travel reported

Good weather contributes as more people hit roads

`Fairly close to our predictions'

September 07, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

After days spent enjoying sandy beaches, cookouts, baseball games and other end-of-summer rituals, there was one more Labor Day tradition awaiting many yesterday: traveling home.

The Maryland Transportation Authority projected an increase in Labor Day weekend traffic over last year, with more than 1.2 million vehicles traveling through the Fort McHenry Tunnel, on Interstate 95 and across the Bay Bridge over four days from Friday through yesterday.

"Because the weather held up nicely, ... we think it will be fairly close to our predictions," said Veronica Sinclair-Anderson, a transportation authority spokeswoman.

As the slow-moving foul weather from Frances remained over Florida, storms did not materialize in Maryland during the weekend, as some people feared.

With Labor Day traditionally marking the end of summer, "people want to take advantage of [the nice weather]," Sinclair-Anderson said.

The largest traffic backup occurred on southbound Interstate 95 near Exit 93, just north of Havre de Grace, because of construction, but "otherwise, everything seems to be running smoothly," she said.

AAA Mid-Atlantic was predicting the busiest Labor Day in a decade, with 34.1 million Americans -- including 585,000 in Maryland -- traveling 50 miles or more. Nationally, that's a 2.2 percent increase over last year. One factor, the travel club said, was a drop in gas prices from about $2 a gallon at the beginning of the summer to an average of $1.87 for self-serve, regular unleaded gasoline last week.

AAA expected airlines to see a 4 percent increase in business.

Operations ran smoothly at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, with the exception of flights to and from Florida that were canceled because of the storm there, said Holly Ellison, an airport spokeswoman. The number of weekend travelers using BWI was not available, she said.

Drivers who observed the transportation authority's suggestion to travel during off-peak hours were rewarded yesterday with a fairly easy trip through Maryland in the morning and afternoon.

"It's not bad at all," said Ralph Posner, who was returning to Arlington, Va., after visiting family in East Windsor, N.J.

Taking a break at the Maryland House rest stop in Harford County, Posner said he left New Jersey about 10 a.m. with his wife, Alyssa, and daughter, Julia, 3, to beat the traffic.

"We usually try not to travel on holiday weekends," he said, but he couldn't say no to his family this time.

His tip for a smoother ride: "E-Z Pass is the key to life."

Volume appeared lighter than normal at the Maryland House for Labor Day, said Vern Bingham, general manager for HM Host, which provides food and services at the location.

With nice weather over the weekend, he said, he thought people would try to stretch out their trips a little longer and return yesterday evening. "I expect [the crowd] will be here tonight after dinner, about 6 o'clock to 10 o'clock," he said.

The summer was a good one for road traffic, Bingham said, noting that the rest stop saw lots of families and bus tours. Recently, travelers included numerous families taking their older children to college.

The rest stop will likely be quiet with the traditional end of summer activities, he said, until a rush at Thanksgiving.

In midafternoon, Chelsi Mitchell, 12, bought a Seventeen magazine at the rest stop to fend off boredom as her family returned to their home in Queens, N.Y., from Mitchellville.

"So far, it's clear," said Chelsi's father, Allan Mitchell. But he expected to hit more traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike.

"We left around [noon] to try to beat the traffic," he said, "but I don't think it's going to happen."

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