Heavy traffic marks 4th, but travelers undaunted

Historically high-volume weekend proves true to form on roads, rails


News from around the Baltimore region

July 05, 2005|By Annie Linskey and William Wan | Annie Linskey and William Wan,SUN STAFF

If the automobile is the unofficial symbol of American independence, then what could be more appropriate than spending the Fourth of July in the car with the family?

AAA projected that 40.3 million Americans - more than ever before - would travel this holiday weekend. And the majority would go by car, said AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella.

Many of those who drove all day yesterday had no qualms about spending hours confined to their vehicles.

"God, it is great to be an American," said Rodney Whetstone, a New Jersey resident who was making a pit stop at the Maryland House rest stop on Interstate 95 near Aberdeen yesterday. "I like taking the car. I have my freedom to go where I want to go."

And although traffic moved steadily on I-95 and other major roadways through the early evening, experienced traffic-watchers expected the volume to remain heavy and slowdowns to occur.

Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins of the state police ordered 150 additional troopers to patrol the roads over the weekend in anticipation of high traffic volume.

"This holiday season I said that everyone who wasn't on covert duty should be out on patrol," said Hutchins.

When he said "everyone," he meant it. Hutchins himself spent yesterday on the road making traffic stops - and even an arrest.

Bay Bridge officials also braced for heavy traffic.

"Historically, the Fourth of July weekend has been our heaviest traffic weekend," said Cheryl Sparks, a spokeswoman for Maryland Transportation Authority.

"It beats Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. And this year has been consistent with years past, as far as traffic," Sparks said.

Backups going over the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore on Saturday and Sunday extended nine miles, Sparks said. And, of course, those people eventually had to go home, so slow bridge traffic was expected into the night, Sparks said.

But at Maryland House, travelers were feeling no pain.

"As long as the music is going and the traffic is flowing and I'm getting to my destination, I'm happy to be in the car," Bronx resident Lewis Torrence said while munching fried chicken.

He'd experienced little traffic on the way to Charlotte, N.C., and even less yesterday on his way home.

Still, the welcome center was crowded with families stopping to buy ice cream, replenish water supplies and gas up their cars. Minivans were stuffed with family members and coolers. Vehicles were topped with kayaks, bikes and suitcases.

The Vandra family, in line to fill up their Hummer, said their holiday trip was smooth and relaxing, not to mention expensive.

"There were no votes for taking my car - the Saturn - other than the obvious one that the gas mileage would be much better," said Carla Vandra. The Hummer gets about 11 miles to the gallon, Vandra said. But, she added, "it is definitely more comfortable."

Some travelers this weekend abandoned their cars in favor of traveling by rail.

"Independence Day is about being free," explained Gan Mukherjee, arriving home with his wife at Penn Station in Baltimore from New York. "In a car, you have to worry about parking, getting lost, stuck in traffic. It's too much hassle."

Nearby, writing postcards on a bench, Vanessa Sweet tried to explain the compulsion people feel to travel on July Fourth. A Texas native, she timed her first trip to the East Coast for the Fourth so she could experience patriotic feelings traditionally associated with the holiday.

She blended visits to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero in New York with experiencing the turnpike in New Jersey.

"It's been amazing to actually see the history of this country," she said. "I mean, the East Coast is where it all began."

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