Crunch time at BWI


Baltimore-Washington International Airport has become a booming success -- so much so that commuters have encountered more and more delays in and around the airport. The air-fares war has brought a people crunch to BWI that isn't likely to go away any time soon.

Jam-ups at the inbound and outbound roadways to the terminal are common at peak hours. Long baggage delays are common, too. Try hailing a taxi when all those new flights descend on BWI at the same time of day.

Blame it on the heavily discounted fares introduced here by Southwest Airlines and mimicked by Continental and USAir. That's been great news for the flying public, but the big jump in flights at BWI also has turned a quiet terminal into a scene of bustling activity.

But not always. While the people crunch can be severe at rush hours, during the rest of the day BWI can be quite serene, with few passengers in view. Though the crowds have increased, BWI still doesn't come close to the pandemonium of airports in major cities such as Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Miami.

Still, BWI could come close to the 12 million mark in passengers this year, easily surpassing the previous high of 10.3 million in 1989. To meet the demand, new surface parking lots are opening as quickly as the asphalt dries: 900 spaces in April; 1,100 this week, and 1,300 more in November.

The key choke point, though, remains those pesky lanes of traffic in front of the main terminal.

Too many spouses like to park there to await their commuting workmate. That accounts for much of the congestion at the afternoon rush hour. In the future, airport police may take a more aggressive stand, forcing these drivers to park in the multi-level garage instead of clogging the terminal entrance.

It would take a major revamping of the roadways to improve the situation markedly, something BWI officials aren't yet willing to do.

Why? Because a year from now, the situation will worsen with construction of the new international pier and the realignment of road patterns. Once that two-year project is completed, a more comprehensive solution to the airport's traffic crunch can be undertaken.

For now, harried airline commuters can take comfort in realizing that BWI still is cozy and convenient compared with National Airport or the other biggies in the airline industry. Even with its new busy-ness, BWI still has most other airports beaten by a mile.

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