BY DAVID ANDERSON, firstname.lastname@example.org
10:45 AM EST, November 26, 2013
While slightly fewer Marylanders are expected to be traveling for Thanksgiving this year compared to last, there will still be hundreds of thousands of people traveling through Harford County this week.
A large portion of drivers in Maryland are expected to be on I-95 passing through Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties, and a threat of bad weather is tempering many travel plans.
John Sales, public affairs manager for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said MdTA officials expect to see a 1 percent increase in traffic volume through the eight toll plazas the agency maintains around the state, including in the Hatem and Tydings bridges in Harford and Cecil counties.
Thanksgiving travelers who hit the road prior to Thanksgiving day could run into Winter Storm Boreas, which is being blamed for 13 deaths in the West and Midwest.
The storm is expected to bring rain and snow to the East Coast Tuesday and Wednesday, according to http://www.weather.gov.
Christine Delise, public affairs specialist with AAA Mid-Atlantic, said AAA officials are advising drivers to watch local weather forecasts before leaving.
"Motorists are urged to avoid the storm by delaying travel until Wednesday night or even Thanksgiving morning for more favorable weather and road conditions," Delise said.
She also advised travelers to "stay abreast" of the weather forecasts at home and at their destinations, and to bring emergency supplies such as snacks, rain gear, extra clothing, a flashlight, batteries, water and a radio if they are driving.
Officials with the MdTA make their projections for travel between Tuesday and Sunday.
"Wednesday is expected to be the heaviest travel day, although we are also seeing many travelers hit the roads Tuesday as well," Sales said.
Sales said more than 735,000 drivers are expected to come through the Ft. McHenry Tunnel toll plaza in Baltimore and more than 682,000 are expected to use John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, or I-95 in Harford and Cecil counties.
"Those are our two facilities with the most vehicles," he said of Ft. McHenry and JFK Highway.
Sales said a recent decrease in gas prices could be considered a factor in more people driving for Thanksgiving, but he said staffers "try to get a gauge whether or not it will be slightly more or less based on those [traffic] volumes from last year."
Gas prices in Harford County, however, bumped up from less than $3.20 a week and a half ago to about $3.39 early this week.
For the second straight year, drivers heading through Harford County on I-95 will not be able to stop at the Maryland House Travel Plaza in Aberdeen for food and fuel because it is still closed for renovations. MdTA officials plan to re-open the facility in early 2014.
Sales said travelers can use the Chesapeake House Travel Plaza, about 25 miles to the northeast, in Cecil County.
"That remains open for both food and fuel service," he said.
Officials with the MdTA announced during November the toll booths for the Route 40 Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge will be eventually be removed and drivers must pay tolls electronically.
Sales said that change will not happen right away, as agency representatives must conduct outreach programs with members of the public and elected officials in Harford and Cecil counties.
He said the toll booths could be replaced, at the earliest, by next fall, if efforts to reach out to the affected communities are completed in time.
Holiday travelers crossing the Hatem Bridge will still be able to pay cash or use their E-ZPasses at the existing toll booths.
More information about E-ZPass can be found online at http://www.ezpassmd.com.
Sales offered several tips for holiday drivers, including driving during off-peak hours, such as before 6 a.m. and after 11 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, and before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Officials with AAA Mid-Atlantic project that 903,000 Marylanders will be traveling between Wednesday and Sunday, 1.2 percent less than those who were traveling for Thanksgiving in 2012. The state's total population is just shy of 5.9 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means about 15 percent of state residents will be traveling for the holiday.
"While the economy continues to slowly improve, economic uncertainty and an overall level of consumer pessimism remain heading into this year's holiday, Ragina Averella, manager of public and government affairs for AAA, stated in a news release. "As a result, it appears that some travelers are choosing to skip the Thanksgiving holiday trip this year."
Officials with AAA projected that 819,000 people will be traveling by car, 62,200 by air and 21,800 by "other modes," such as bus, rail and water.