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Marylanders expected to brave traffic in high numbers for Labor Day weekend

Highway and Road TransportationGetaway TravelCommutingHoliday VacationsTrips and VacationsLabor Day

Nearly three-quarters of a million Marylanders are expected to hit the roads and airways this Labor Day weekend even as the state struggles with congestion at its largest airport, on its most-traveled highway and around some of its largest tourist attractions.

About 728,000 people in the state are expected to travel 50 miles or more between Thursday and Monday, the third-highest number on record for Labor Day in Maryland, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, which is set to release its predictions Tuesday. That's 1.2 percent more than last Labor Day weekend.

The uptick in Maryland comes amid an already taxing season for travelers in the state, with roadwork on Interstate 95 near Baltimore and long lines at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport in Anne Arundel County causing major headaches in recent weeks.

The holiday also aligns with a busy weekend in Baltimore, where thousands of visitors to the new Horseshoe Casino Baltimore — which opens Tuesday — are expected to crowd into a downtown area already swollen with sports fans attending games at the city's two nearby stadiums.

It remains unclear whether concerns about traffic will put a significant dent in the weekend travels, though some Marylanders indicated it might.

Aisha Mohammed, 22, who commutes to Baltimore from Bowie every day for work, said she's considering a trip with family to Assateague Island or Ocean City for the weekend but hasn't fully committed to making the trip.

"I'll usually check the news," she said, "and if it seems like [traffic] is going to be bad, I'll stay home."

Jessica Waters, a spokeswoman for Ocean City, said the town often sees huge numbers on Labor Day weekend, comparable to those seen on Memorial Day weekend.

"Labor Day is everybody's last big hurrah, kind of the closing of the summer," she said. "Especially for the families who have already gone back to school, it's an extra weekend of summer."

Just how big the crowds get will probably depends on the weather, Waters said. "If the sun is shining, we'll get really large numbers."

Forecasts are calling for partly sunny skies with temperatures in the 70s and 80s.

Gas prices are another factor that will be driving travel, AAA said. On Monday, the average cost for a gallon of gas in Maryland was $3.40, which is 17 cents cheaper than a month ago and 15 cents cheaper than a year ago, AAA said.

Of those traveling, about 635,100 — or 87 percent — are expected to go by automobile, while 53,400, or 8 percent, are expected to fly. That's a 1.4 percent increase in vehicle travelers, and no growth for air travel, which AAA said could be related to families with "tighter household finances" choosing the "flexibility" of traveling by vehicle.

"Marylanders' enthusiasm for travel appears to continue to remain undeterred by a sluggish economy and stagnant income growth, as evident by the strong volume of residents forecasted to get away for yet another summer holiday weekend," Ragina Cooper-Averella, an AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman, said in a statement.

But the surge in weekend traffic will test the state's stressed transportation infrastructure.

Fliers at BWI could face a recurrence of recent problems with long ticketing and security lines at Southwest Airlines, the largest carrier at the state's largest airport.

Many drivers will have to navigate through a stretch of construction on I-95 in Baltimore that has created long back-ups. The problems on I-95 were compounded Monday morning after a new traffic pattern for lane splits around construction zones went into effect, but signage indicating an old pattern remained posted.

Officials at the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the state's bridges and tunnels and is overseeing the I-95 construction, said the signage issues have been addressed, but high volumes still could cause problems there and elsewhere in the state.

On Saturday, Russell Street in Baltimore could see significant traffic from the first weekend day the casino is open, the Ohio State-Navy football game at M&T Bank Stadium in the afternoon and the evening Orioles game against the Minnesota Twins.

Michele Gilman, a law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, described the morning scene on I-95 as "chaos" in an email, noting drivers were cutting through cones after becoming confused as to which side of the split they should be on.

The problems added more than an hour to her commute, Gilman said. "I've been doing the same commute for 17 years, and this is the worst I've seen it due to road construction."

Gilman, who lives outside of Washington, said she has tickets to the O's game on Saturday but now plans to see how traffic fares the rest of the week before deciding whether to attend.

"I'm second-guessing my plan," she said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Highway and Road TransportationGetaway TravelCommutingHoliday VacationsTrips and VacationsLabor Day
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