Holiday traffic slow, steady

Few delays on what was predicted to be heaviest travel day this season

December 23, 2006|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

Although rain and fog slowed interstate traffic to a crawl yesterday afternoon, few travelers experienced serious delays on what many predicted would be the heaviest travel day before Christmas.

"There is a little more congestion than usual because people scooted out of work a little early to do some last-minute errands," said Lindsay Reilly, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Yet traffic moved steadily, though perhaps slowly, on highways across the state. Thick fog caused officials to close two-way travel lanes on the Bay Bridge, but traffic was not significantly affected, Reilly said.

Still, traffic was heavy. It took some drivers more than two hours to get from Washington to Baltimore on Interstate 95 yesterday afternoon. Weather forecasters predicted improving conditions today, with rain ending and temperatures rising into the low 60s.

Nicole Pangborn, 18, a freshman at the Johns Hopkins University, was waiting last night for a 10:45 p.m. train to Rhode Island after finishing her last final -- a philosophy exam.

"All the stories about the delays and cancellations and living in the airport for a few days," drove her to take a train. She patted her large suitcase and said, "The only stressful thing is when you have a big bag like this."

JoAnn Jones of Pikesville was traveling to Dillon, S.C., to see her grandchildren. That meant taking a train to Washington, where she planned to meet a friend for a long drive to South Carolina.

"Well, I am really not looking forward to that," she said about the drive, though she is planning to return by plane. "The train is easier [than driving]. It is relaxing, just getting your bottle of beer and chilling."

Denver's snowed-in airport reopened yesterday for the first time in two days, but the backlog of flights around the country could take all weekend to clear, and many of the nearly 5,000 holiday travelers stranded there might not make it home for Christmas.

While some airline passengers learned that they would be trapped in Denver over the holiday because of snowstorms earlier in the week, travelers moved smoothly through Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport yesterday, said spokeswoman Cheryl Stewart.

"People are pretty much used to the grind and know what to expect," she said.

BWI employees were expecting more than 65,000 passengers to pass through the airport yesterday, Stewart said. They were anticipating a little more than 55,000 today. The average daily number of passengers is between 50,000 and 55,000.

Stewart said BWI expected 41,000 passengers tomorrow and a little more than 39,000 on Christmas, for an expected total of more than 370,000 passengers between Dec. 20 and Dec. 26. Last year's numbers were comparable, she said.

On the roadways, heavy traffic and poor weather caused state police to brace for an increased number of fender-benders. Sgt. Shawn Jackson said that he estimated that as many as 50 to 100 minor accidents would be reported yesterday. "And that is being conservative," he said.

"As long as everybody gives themselves some extra time and has a little bit of patience, they should avoid problems," he said.

More than 52.6 million people nationwide and 1 million Maryland residents will travel more than 50 miles from home this holiday season, according to a statement from AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Sun reporter Sandy Alexander and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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