ODESSA, Del. - When they left home in Fairfax, Va., yesterday morning bound for the sands of Rehoboth Beach, Del., for a week's vacation, Roxana Torrico and Guy Meruvia were faced with a decision.
Occasional visitors to the Shore, they had rented a house this time and didn't want to dally getting there. But they'd heard that the Bay Bridge, a crucial piece of their usual route, would be a mess, reduced to two eastbound lanes because of corrosion found by inspectors after a fatal truck accident Aug. 10 and a long way from being repaired.
As they hit the road, their bicycles strapped to the rear of their black Volvo S40, they still hadn't decided how to get to their destination.
"We started to see all these signs saying 'Take an alternate route,' so we decided to listen," Torrico said.
She was riding shotgun with a map in her lap and a GPS navigation system on the dashboard. They stopped at a gas station in Elkton after heading north on Interstate 95, past Baltimore, and getting onto the less crowded U.S. 40, from which they intended to veer off and head south once they got to Delaware.
"We've never done this before, but we really wanted to avoid traffic," she said.
So, it seemed, did everyone else. The thought of starting off the holiday weekend by spending hours in an interminable bottleneck at the hobbled Bay Bridge apparently prompted thousands of motorists to leave far earlier than usual or to seek other routes to the Eastern Shore - or both. The northward route held a number of options, from freeways and toll roads to country roads along wide-open farmland.
As a result, traffic on the Bay Bridge was light and was running smoothly yesterday, said Kelly Melhem, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority. "We certainly had folks heed the message to take alternate routes," she said. "Most of the people that were going to use the bridge to get to the Eastern Shore, they did that on Thursday and yesterday."
She said heavier traffic westbound is likely this evening and tomorrow as vacationers head home.
At the Chesapeake House Welcome Center, a rest stop on I-95 west of Elkton, Pearl Johnson, a travel counselor for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said yesterday that she had been told to direct Ocean City-bound motorists north to the first exit past the Delaware line, south on Interstate 896 to Route 13 and, finally, to pick up Delaware Route 1.
"We haven't had too many today come up from the south and ask," Johnson said, but on Friday "we had a lot," supporting the notion that many people had chosen to embark on their weekend trips early.
Most of the drivers who asked yesterday for directions to the beach, she said, came from the north and had missed their exit in Delaware.
A driver at the park-and-ride at I-95's Exit 74 south of Bel Air said northbound traffic on the interstate Friday evening "was jammed as far as you could see."
In Elkton, James Miller, a landscape gardener, said there was such a boost in traffic heading to the beach that he had to park his truck closer to the curb than usual at a filling station near the intersection of U.S. 40 and Route 213, where he was to trim some trees obstructing the gas-prices sign.
"Normally there are just a few cars here and we can park anywhere," he said. "But it's been a mess all morning."
From Torrico and Meruvia's point of view, the drive north and east was a breeze compared with what they might have faced at the Bay Bridge, even though the GPS was clearly favoring the old route: over the span and east on U.S. 50 to the ocean.
"We wanted to follow whatever the GPS told us, but it kept trying to take us to Route 50," Torrico said. "But we thought we'd chance another route. It might be about 50 miles longer, but it's not too bad."
A spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, which controls traffic along the I-95 corridor, did not respond to a request for comment about conditions yesterday.
A traffic controller for the Delaware Highway Patrol said he had received only a couple of calls yesterday from drivers seeking a route to the Eastern Shore that did not involve crossing the Bay Bridge, both from central Pennsylvania.
The controller, who would provide only his first name, Tim, said state troopers were not reporting unusually large volumes of traffic heading south and east on the state's roads. If there were, he said, "there would be some scuttlebutt on the airwaves."
Baltimore Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.