Thanksgiving traffic down slightly; Sandy may be to blame

Numbers indicate travelers leaving earlier, staying later

December 04, 2012|By Candy Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

If you stayed put this Thanksgiving, you weren't home alone.

Despite experts projecting a slight increase in travel, it appears Maryland's busiest highways were a little less crowded.

Superstorm Sandy may have had a role in spoiling holiday plans.

Total traffic from Tuesday through Sunday at the Fort McHenry Tunnel was down 2.4 percent over the same period last year, the Bay Bridge volume dropped 1.5 percent and Interstate 95 slipped 1.1 percent, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

"A slight decrease isn't unexpected," said Kelly Melhem, an authority spokeswoman. "This could be attributed to a number of factors, one of them possibly being a decrease in travel to the Northeast areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy."

AAA Mid-Atlantic predicted 833,000 Marylanders — one in six residents — would travel more than 50 miles, up 0.7 percent from 2011. Cars were favored by 91 percent of travelers.

But the annual survey was taken in early October, before Sandy struck, noted Ragina Averella, a AAA spokeswoman.

"While I think it's difficult to measure the impact of Sandy, it's very safe to assume that many people did alter their plans or didn't travel at all this year," she said.

Travel on Thanksgiving itself — long the escape window favored by those traveling locally who hate gridlock — took the greatest hit at the I-95 and McHenry tunnel toll plazas, while the Bay Bridge showed a slight increase. By contrast, the Tuesday before the holiday showed a healthy increase in traffic at all three toll facilities over last year.

"People are more and more spreading out their holiday and starting their vacations earlier in an effort to avoid the Wednesday crush," Averella said. "People are turning it into a vacation week. The question is, when will it begin sliding to Monday?"

The worst time to be using the McHenry tunnel and I-95 was 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, when more than 10,000 vehicles squeezed through the toll plazas each day. The traffic bottleneck at the Bay Bridge occurred between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday, as more than 8,200 vehicles headed for the Eastern Shore.

Post-Thanksgiving traffic, Friday through Sunday, was down at the tunnel (3.8 percent) and the Bay Bridge (6 percent).

The national AAA survey indicated that as many as 25 percent of holiday travelers planned to delay their return until Monday.

The good holiday weather, coupled with the lower traffic volume, may have had a good effect on highway safety as well. Preliminary numbers show Maryland State Police responded to a total of two crashes involving three fatalities compared to five crashes that resulted in six fatalities last year.

Beefed-up patrols resulted in 8,900 vehicles stopped and 96 drunken-driving arrests, said spokeswoman Elena Russo.

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