Travel starts smoothly

By road, air and rail, holiday journeys encounter few snags

November 24, 2005|By NICOLE FULLER | NICOLE FULLER,SUN REPORTER

Thousands of Marylanders headed out by train, plane or automobile yesterday with relative ease in the annual rush to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with loved ones.

Despite an early-morning accident in which a gasoline tanker truck exploded on Interstate 95 near the Capital Beltway, forecasts of a record number of vehicles on area roads and the possibility of snow last night, many travelers were pleasantly surprised by the ease of their trips.

At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the screens announcing arrivals and departures late yesterday afternooon displayed good news: on time, arrived, landing. And two America West flights, from Ontario, Calif., and Phoenix, read "early."

The pace was unhurried in the terminal, where Atlanta native Jeff Johnston was anxious to find his gate to catch a flight back home but not flustered enough that he would stray from his roots as a Southern gentleman.

"It's Thanksgiving, and this isn't New York," Johnston said as he stopped to allow two women to walk in front of him to get on an escalator.

He drove to the airport from Timonium without encountering any major tie-ups, but traffic was intensifying, he said.

"The airport is fine right now," Johnston said. "But the roads around Baltimore are bulking up fast."

AAA predicted that more than 37 million people nationwide would travel by car at least 50 miles from home - 683,000 locally - during the long holiday weekend, 0.8 percent more than last year.

The Air Transport Association said 21.7 million people would fly on U.S. airlines in the period of Nov. 19-29, slightly more than last year's record, and Amtrak geared up by adding 60 trains along its busy Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

To ease trips on major Maryland roads, the State Highway Administration announced a suspension of nonemergency roadwork from yesterday through Sunday.

Travelers whose holiday plans are taking them through Western Maryland could encounter heavy snow today and tomorrow as a "clipper" - a fast-moving storm from central Canada - pushes cold air and lake-effect snow into the state.

The National Weather Service forecast as much as 6 to 14 inches of snow for Garrett County and 2 to 5 inches in Allegany County.

Closer to I-95, Thanksgiving was expected to bring no more than a dusting of snow before turning to rain overnight, with no significant impact on the roads. But the forecast calls for a cold, windy day today, with highs in the mid-30s and overnight lows tonight near 20. The record low for Nov. 24 at BWI is 17.

Michelle White, 32, and her daughter Ashley, 12, of Forest Hill bounded through BWI to pick up a relative coming in for Thanksgiving dinner from Arkansas. Her only concern, she said, was traffic on I-95 for the ride home. "Driving in was fine, but I-95 is jammed now," she said.

Traffic jams were no concern for Army Reserve Pvt. Janet Moreno, 18, who spent the past couple of months training at Aberdeen Proving Ground and was girding for a long wait at BWI.

The Army provided a Greyhound bus to take troops to the airport, but no matter what time their flights left, all had to ride on the 1 p.m. bus. Moreno had an 8:40 p.m. flight to Las Vegas.

"I expected it [the airport] to be all jam-packed," Moreno said. "I just ate, so hopefully I'll fall asleep for a bit."

At Penn Station, Amtrak police officers directed traffic that snaked along St. Paul and Charles streets as people picked up and dropped off rail travelers. Sisters and Morgan State University undergraduates Najmah Nelson, 19, and Quadira Nelson, 22, caught a taxi from campus and waited on a wooden bench for their 5:47 p.m. train to Newark, N.J. The only problem they expected was finding seats together.

"I thought our train was going to be late," Quadira said. "But our train's on time. It's better than driving."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Frank D. Roylance and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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