If you think you can handle I-95 this holiday, think again

November 24, 2008|By KEVIN COWHERD

Traveling on Interstate 95 for the Thanksgiving holiday? Good luck with that plan.

Here's a little advice from someone who knows: Leave now.

Yes, I mean right now.

Drop whatever you're doing, throw the suitcases in the car, and go.

Sure, I know it's only Monday and you might be one of the lucky ones who still has a job to go to.

And I know Turkey Day isn't until Thursday.

But by tomorrow, traffic on I-95 will already be building to ridiculous levels.

By Wednesday, it'll be a traffic-choked nightmare up and down the East Coast.

By Thanksgiving Day, it'll be total gridlock, with no hope of ever getting through.

That's why you should leave now.

Save yourself while you still can.

Newcomers to the area always think I'm exaggerating when I write about how horrible the Thanksgiving traffic is on I-95.

"C'mon, how bad can it be?" is their standard reply.

Then they pile into their car for what they think will be a pleasant holiday visit with family or friends, merge onto I-95 for the first time and - whammo!

There it is: stop-and-go traffic as far as the eye can see, exhaust fumes from a thousand idling engines swirling into the gray sky, fellow travelers slumped dejectedly in cars all around them.

Only then does it hit them: The fat guy in the newspaper was right.

Look at this traffic.

We're doomed.

Which is when they start having their first panicky thoughts of how terrible the ride home will be Sunday.

Before we go any further, let's address this notion that the highways might be less congested this Thanksgiving week because of the lousy economy and people wanting to save a few bucks.

AAA Mid-Atlantic is predicting a slight decline in the number of motorists traveling this holiday weekend.

But even if they're right, don't expect I-95 to be a lesser hell than usual.

First of all, gas is cheap again. I paid $1.82 for regular unleaded the other day and it felt like hitting the lottery. And when gas is cheap, people travel. It's the American way.

And because I-95 is the major artery on the East Coast - its motto should be "Making Life Miserable for Motorists From Maine to Florida" - you can pretty much guarantee it'll be the same god-awful parking lot it is every Thanksgiving.

Even the people at AAA Mid-Atlantic know this, although they can't come out and say it.

"I personally stay at home and cook for my family," spokeswoman Ragina Averella said.

Smart woman, Ms. Averella.

I, personally, would stay at home and cook for the entire inmate population of the Maryland Penitentiary if it kept me off I-95.

Still, some people never learn, which is why AAA Mid-Atlantic also says some 650,000 Marylanders will take to the roads this week.

And only about 12 of them will follow the standard advice to travel during off-peak hours.

This year, transportation officials are urging motorists to travel before 7 a.m. and after 10 p.m. tomorrow and Wednesday, and before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

But let's think about that for a moment.

That means if you're planning a four-hour drive in the next day or two to, say, New York, you'd have to get up at 2 in the morning in order to be on the road by 3 and arrive at your destination by 7.

Or you'd have to leave at 10 at night and get there at 2 in the morning.

Is this really what we want on our nation's highways?

Thousands of sleep-deprived drivers barreling through the darkness at 80 mph, slurping coffee and trying to stay awake?

Why don't we tell them to do some text-messaging while they're at it?

It can't be any more dangerous than dozing off at the wheel, can it?

Just the other day, I heard a bubbly traffic reporter on the radio telling her audience what to expect "as you drive the I-95 corridor this holiday weekend."

The I-95 corridor - it sounded so idyllic.

It summoned the image of a delightful passageway with pretty flowers and trees lining the road and woodland creatures smiling and waving at the passing cars.

But of course that's not how it'll be this week.

No, this week it'll be an asphalt boulevard of broken dreams, with "expect delays" signs lining the road and scowling motorists muttering to each other in 10-mile backups.

Again, you can avoid all that.

But only if you hurry and leave now.

The clock is ticking. Don't say you weren't warned.

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