David R. Craig, mayor of Havre de Grace, stayed home for Thanksgiving, and for that he's plenty thankful.
Most of the year, Craig's small, historic town on the Susquehanna River is a blur to motorists on Interstate 95. But today, as the post-holiday rush of travelers converges upon Harford and Cecil counties, small towns like Havre de Grace can turn into a prolonged layover for the unsuspecting traveler.
"If you're traveling within the county, traffic's not bad. If you're crossing 95, traffic is just unbelievable," Craig said. "I would never attempt to get on either direction."
About 140,000 motorists will make the mistake of traveling on I-95 in Northern Maryland, say local authorities who have prepared for the crush. Harford and Cecil counties will take the first blow because they sit just below a vortex of major highways.
To the north, in Delaware, lies one of the most heavily traveled portions of I-95, where traffic from the New Jersey Turnpike, Interstate 295 and Philadelphia funnels south. Extended backups often prompt motorists to divert to local highways. It's enough to cause post-Thanksgiving road rage for those eager to get home after visiting New York, New Jersey and other parts of the Northeast.
How to avoid the mess?
Leave tomorrow, authorities suggest. If that's not possible, motorists have several alternatives to I-95 in Harford County: U.S. 1 bisects the county, and Route 7 and U.S. 40 run through Havre de Grace and the county's southern corridor. All are parallel to I-95.
"Fortunately, there are several alternatives with four good north-south routes," said David Buck of the State Highway Administration. "They're not always necessarily the best avenues. The key is to be willing, if you need to, to get off the main thoroughfare and get off to a side road. And know them -- get a map. Far too few people just have a regular old state map."
Authorities suggest visiting www.marylandroads.com for traffic updates. Once on the road, motorists should pay attention to overhead signs for updates on traffic and weather.
For their part, local and regional law enforcement agencies are preparing for the accidents that can result from so many cars in such a limited space.
The Maryland Transportation Authority has halted three projects on I-95 in Harford County until Tuesday night, and the State Highway Administration has stopped construction on all state roads through tomorrow. Dozens of additional state troopers will be deployed, mainly to enforce laws against aggressive driving, state police said.
One accident, after all, can lead to miles-long backups. Tuesday night, a multicar crash on northbound I-95 near Mountain Road in Harford County caused a 13-mile jam, state police said.
With more people expecting to travel this Thanksgiving weekend than any year since 2000, many motorists are avoiding driving today.
Anup Chaudhry of is one of them. The Charlotte, N.C., resident has made the trek up I-95 to New York City several times. Several years ago, he learned the hard way not to travel on the Sunday after Thanksgiving when his trip more than doubled because of traffic.
"If it's normally nine hours, it's 19 hours," Chaudhry, 56, said Wednesday outside the Maryland House rest stop near Aberdeen. "The biggest bottleneck is the [JFK] toll booth [in Delaware]. By the time it's your turn, you could take a nap."
No wonder, as 68,000 cars are expected to pass the JFK Memorial toll plaza in each direction today.
Chaudhry planned to return home yesterday. So did Chuck and Michelle Shimkus, who spent almost seven hours in their car on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2002, driving from their daughter's New Market home to Long Island, N.Y.
"It was like a parking lot," Michelle Shimkus, 57, said of the traffic near the JFK Memorial Highway toll plaza in Delaware. "We did that once and never again."