From Grandmother's house we go ... slowly

Despite good weather, few accidents, holiday travelers face delays

November 28, 2005|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

In the daydreams of the delayed holiday traveler, the road not taken just had to be the less congested one.

Consider the two sisters caught yesterday in five miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic before they reached Baltimore. Next year, they pledged to go by train.

Or take the passengers queued up at the security checkpoints at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. They muttered about driving to Grandma's house next time.

And there was the couple from Hereford who spent two days - on many buses - trying to get back from Texas on Greyhound, and wished they had splurged for plane tickets.

On one of the busiest travel days of the year, it was easy for many to be convinced that any other way had to be a better way home after the long Thanksgiving weekend.

"They told us there wasn't enough people to fill our bus. So they made us wait six hours in Atlanta. I'm never taking a bus again," 18-year-old Dawn Tegeler said after stepping off a bus at the Baltimore Travel Plaza off Interstate 95.

For all of the grumbling over traffic congestion, local travel conditions remained hospitable yesterday - gray but mostly dry, with temperatures in the low 50s that couldn't be called frigid.

Not so for the rest of the country. The Midwest braced for a major snowstorm. Tragedy hit on the roads in California when a Greyhound bus in Santa Maria overturned, killing two people.

In Maryland, the most significant traffic problem appeared to be a three-vehicle accident about 6:15 a.m. on the Baltimore Beltway near Security Boulevard that sent one motorist to the hospital, according to the state police. There was nothing like the gasoline tanker explosion that brought Interstate 95 to a standstill outside Washington on Wednesday.

"It's been all quiet so far," state police Sgt. Rod Morris said yesterday evening.

Cheryl Stewart, a spokeswoman for BWI, said the airport was crowded but orderly. Wednesday was, as usual, the airport's busiest day of the Thanksgiving holiday period. Yesterday was the second-busiest, she said.

Like Maryland House to the north on I-95, the Baltimore Travel Plaza had a post-holiday bustle as arriving passengers waited to be picked up and annoyed ticket-holders inquired why the bus to New York didn't seem to be coming.

For sisters Pam and Ercelle White of Manson, N.C., an extra day of shopping on Canal Street in New York City made the traffic-filled car trip home yesterday worth it.

"I mean, we needed handbags, you know?" said Ercelle White, 44, taking the keys from her 38-year-old sister on the travel plaza parking lot. "But next year, it's Amtrak for sure."

Others remained more at peace with the inevitable delays and waits that come with going from place to place with the rest of the post-Thanksgiving crowd.

Vaychelle King, a 33-year-old nurse from Richmond, Va., said all of the buses were sold out when she tried to come to Baltimore on Wednesday. She bought a seat on Friday instead, rejoining the holiday crush with a trip home yesterday.

"I don't mind. I have a pretty flexible schedule. I'm only two hours from home and I didn't have to do any of the driving," she said.

On a day when the casual driver takes on marathon-plus distances, the advice of a professional seemed appropriate.

David Valdez, 23, of Port Huron, Mich., has only been driving his 18-wheeler for Swift Transportation Co. for nine months. But Valdez, the son of a trucker, has already racked up more than 40,000 miles in his rig.

"I've seen a lot," he said, fueling up his 2005 Volvo truck with 287 gallons of diesel fuel.

He fumed about getting trapped behind a woman chatting on her cell phone while driving 50 mph along a highway with a posted speed limit of 65. He also recalled seeing too many accidents whose sole cause was excessive speed.

"You see a lot of four-wheelers who are just ignorant," Valdez said, topping off his tank.

The days that bookend Thanksgiving are tough ones, Valdez said. The weather in late November is unpredictable, he said, and traffic around major cities can come to a dead halt without warning, especially in cities like Baltimore.

Valdez looked up at the pictures of his wife and two young boys attached to the windshield above his dashboard.

"I wish they just thought like I do," he said of the nonprofessional drivers. "Doesn't matter how long it takes to get home just as long as you get there safe."

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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