Thanks­giv­ing rush starts at air­ports and on roads

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Colin Camp­bell

In­ter­state 95 and the Bal­ti­more Belt­way are ex­pected to be mad­den­ing as usual in the last two days lead­ing up to Thanks­giv­ing, but air trav­el­ers may face fewer choke­points at BWI Mar­shall Air­port with the in­tro­duc­tion of a new se­cu­rity check­point and ter­mi­nal con­nec­tions this week.

The air­port is sched­uled to cut the rib­bon to­day on its $105 mil­lion con­course con­nec­tion — link­ing the D and E con­courses to ac­com­mo­date the air­port’s sharp in­crease in in­ter­na­tional traf­fic — de­but­ing the new sec­tion of the air­port just in time for the Thanks­giv­ing rush.

“It’s go­ing to be a real im­prove­ment to the air­port,” Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Pete Rahn said. “Peo­ple are go­ing to feel less stresses as a re­sult of this. There’s noth­ing that’s go­ing to make this not crazy — we’re talk­ing Thanks­giv­ing travel. … What we do know is that these sorts of ameni­ties and con­nec­tions will ease the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Even Bal­ti­more-area res­i­dents who are stay­ing home for turkey, foot­ball and

other festivities this week­end could find them­selves caught in the pre-Thanks­giv­ing traf­fic jams.

The Belt­way’s outer loop is the area’s most con­gested on the Tues­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, thanks to the added vol­ume of hol­i­day trav­el­ers mixed in with the nor­mal rush-hour mess, ac­cord­ing to re­search by the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Cen­ter for Ad­vanced Trans­porta­tion Tech­nol­ogy Lab.

Outer-loop Belt­way traf­fic slowed to 20 mph or less all the way from In­ter­state 70 to I-95 as of 5 p.m. on the Tues­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing last year, the lab’s mod­els show.

By Wed­nes­day — the big­gest travel date of the year — the rush-hour im­pact on the Belt­way ebbs, as many trav­el­ers leave work early and crowd onto I-95 to visit out-oftown rel­a­tives, the lab found. The big­gest choke­point Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon is gen­er­ally on I-95 north of the Belt­way, the cen­ter found.

Driv­ers look­ing to skip the worst of the traf­fic should try to avoid be­ing on the road be­tween 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to­day and be­tween 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Wed­nes­day, said Michael Pack, the lab’s di­rec­tor.

The lab uses a sys­tem based on GPS data to show how fast traf­fic is mov­ing on a given road in real time, Pack said. The univer­sity sup­plies the data to the Bal­ti­more Metropoli­tan Coun­cil, which uses it to share travel tips and pro­pose traf­fic con­ges­tion fixes through­out the re­gion.

The GPS-based map­ping app Waze, which uses crowd­sourc­ing to warn users of — and nav­i­gate them around — traf­fic, ac­ci­dents and even speed traps, said its users re­ported one-third more car crashes na­tion­wide on the Wed­nes­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing last year. Traf­fic jams were up 240 per­cent and ac­ci­dents dou­bled be­tween 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on the Sun­day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing across the coun­try, Waze said.

The State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion is dis­patch­ing ex­tra pa­trols to as­sist driv­ers with bro­ken-down ve­hi­cles, open­ing all non­emer­gency lanes and en­cour­ag­ing driv­ers to move ve­hi­cles out of the road­way in the case of mi­nor ac­ci­dents, spokesman Char­lie Gis­chlar said.

Low gas prices are ex­pected to contribute to the con­ges­tion on the high­ways. A gal­lon of reg­u­lar un­leaded gaso­line is pro­jected to cost an av­er­age of $2.11 na­tion­ally on Thanks­giv­ing, the third­low­est price in the past decade, ac­cord­ing to Gas­Buddy.

With low gas prices and an im­prov­ing econ­omy, AAA Mid-At­lantic is pro­ject­ing a roughly 3 per­cent in­crease in the num­ber of Mary­lan­ders trav­el­ing over Thanks­giv­ing — about 31,000 more than in 2015, spokes­woman Rag­ina Cooper Averella said. Nearly one of ev­ery six state res­i­dents will travel more than 50 miles for the hol­i­day, the vast ma­jor­ity of them by car, ac­cord­ing to AAA.

The auto club projects 48.7 mil­lion Amer­i­cans will travel at least 50 miles from home be­tween Wed­nes­day and Sun­day.

With those fig­ures comes a grim statis­tic: 400 peo­ple die in crashes na­tion­wide over the hol­i­day week­end each year, Averella said.

“We want to en­cour­age mo­torists to give them­selves am­ple time so they’re not rushed and aren’t dis­tracted,” she said.

Laura Palmer, 33, of Columbia is stay­ing home and mak­ing din­ner for her four boys, ages 11, 7, 4 and 2. She nor­mally has fam­ily over to her house but doesn’t travel for Thanks­giv­ing be­cause of the traf­fic.

“Hats off to the peo­ple who do it ev­ery year,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to.”

Gar­land Si­mon, 59, of South Bal­ti­more said he will be driv­ing an hour and a half each way on Thurs­day to visit his fam­ily in New Cas­tle, Del.

Do­ing all his driv­ing on Thanks­giv­ing Day, he said, he ex­pects to miss most of the grid­lock.

Si­mon is com­ing back Thurs­day night be­cause he has to work the next morn­ing at Costco, where he’ll han­dle the first ship­ment of Christ­mas trees, due to ar­rive Fri­day. “I’m on tree duty,” he said.

Other trav­el­ers headed to Bal­ti­moreWash­ing­ton In­ter­na­tional Thur­good Mar­shall Air­port on Mon­day, hop­ing to leave for their hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions be­fore the air­port be­comes snarled in traf­fic and lines for check-in and se­cu­rity.

Gail Foster, 51, of Jon­estown, Pa., said she was tak­ing her two daugh­ters to Dal­las for the week to visit her brother. All three were look­ing for­ward to tem­per­a­tures in the 60s and 70s.

“It’s 40 de­grees and very, very windy back home,” she said. “It’ll be a nice week away from the cold front.”

Matthew and Sharon Baker of Ca­tonsville said they were fly­ing to New Eng­land on Mon­day with their chil­dren, Chloe, 8, and Elise, 5, to spend Thanks­giv­ing with fam­ily in Ver­mont and New Hamp­shire. They booked their trip out­side peak travel times, leav­ing Mon­day and re­turn­ing Fri­day.

“We try to leave a lit­tle ear­lier and come back a lit­tle ear­lier to avoid the hol­i­day rush,” Matthew Baker said.

Kristi Spies, 44, of York, Pa., said York Coun­try Day School closed all week be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, al­low­ing her and her hus­band, Jay, to book their trip to Fort My­ers, Fla., a few days early. She is a teacher at the school; her chil­dren, Ma­son, 12, and Harper, 8, are stu­dents there.

“We fig­ured we’d get out ahead of the crowd,” Spies said.

Michelle Mabry, 49, of In­dian Head in Charles County lost her fa­ther and grand­par­ents in the past year, so her fam­ily de­cided to can­cel this year’s fam­ily Thanks­giv­ing din­ner. They’re go­ing to Dis­ney World in­stead.

“We’re try­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent,” said Mabry, as her hus­band, Danny, printed their board­ing passes.

Jim Fula, 49, of Alexan­dria, Va., took ex­tra va­ca­tion time from work as gen­eral man­ager at LSR Refin­ish­ing to leave Mon­day for Bos­ton, where he’ll spend Thanks­giv­ing vis­it­ing fam­ily.

Fula said he booked the Mon­day flight for a more re­laxed trip af­ter wit­ness­ing the hol­i­day trav­el­ing hys­te­ria first­hand in pre­vi­ous years.

“I don’t want to deal with the traf­fic and air­port lines,” he said. “The lines are crazy; peo­ple are in bad moods.”

Fula also hopes to dodge another Thanks­giv­ing pit­fall this year, one that looms large for many fam­i­lies: po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions at the din­ner ta­ble.

“I don’t want to see any gravy bowls fly­ing,” he said.

BAR­BARA HAD­DOCK TAY­LOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Harper Spies, 8, of York, Pa., waits with her mother, Kristi Spies, as fa­ther Jay Spies and brother Ma­son, 12, tag their bags Mon­day at BWI-Mar­shall Air­port.

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