Gridlock happened after all yesterday. But not for long, and not for the reasons the experts predicted.
A two-vehicle accident that left a 3-year-old boy in critical condition and five others injured shut down Interstate 95 in both directions shortly after 3 p.m. -- just as 35,000 Ravens fans began filtering out of PSINet Stadium and thousands of others headed into town for an Orioles night game.
The crash produced a combined 18 miles of backups in both directions as northbound lanes were closed for more than an hour and southbound for a half-hour. It forced thousands of motorists into unexpected detours on a day that had otherwise been surprisingly free of traffic problems.
Yesterday marked game days for both Baltimore professional teams, the first time they've played on the same day in their side-by-side downtown stadiums. In addition, motorists hit the roads for an evening Beach Boys concert at the state fair in Timonium, a Washington Redskins game and the start of the Labor Day weekend.
It was the recipe for a traffic nightmare that had state officials urging everyone to avoid driving downtown yesterday if possible.
Motorists apparently listened. Baltimore's thoroughfares remained relatively clear until the midafternoon accident.
"The traffic wasn't there in the morning," said David Buck of the State Highway Administration. "It appears that people got out of Dodge City, and that's good."
But minutes before the Ravens game concluded, two cars collided. Police said a woman driving a 1989 Dodge Omni and the driver of a 1998 Mazda MPV crashed while changing lanes on I-95 north near Route 100 in Howard County, according to Maryland State Police.
The Mazda, carrying a family from Durham, N.C., veered onto the highway's shoulder before returning to the road and rolling over at least once.
Two people in the Mazda were thrown from the vehicle, police said.
Debris was scattered across four lanes.
The driver of the Dodge Omni was identified by police as Deborah Lee Callaway, 47, of Annapolis. She was treated and released from St. Agnes HealthCare.
The Mazda was driven by Marlo Bernard Macford Kerr, 34.
The passengers were identified by police as Brendelin Michelle Bradley Kerr, 33, Caymon Bradley Kerr, 3, and Nina Caprial Kerr, 1, all of Durham, N.C.; and Barbara Morgan Bradley, 57, of Raleigh, N.C.
Caymon and Bradley were thrown from the van.
Last night, Caymon -- who police said was not secured in a child safety seat -- was in critical condition at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Nina Kerr, at the same hospital, was stable. The other passengers were in stable condition at area hospitals.
Officials closed off all eight lanes of I-95 for about 30 minutes so three MedEvac helicopters could pick up the injured.
The impact on traffic was immediate. On a bank of closed-circuit monitors at a state traffic control station deep beneath the Ravens' stadium, the images showed cars backing up at a rate of a mile every two minutes.
Cars sat in lines that reached 12 miles long on I-95 north, back to Route 32, and lines stretching six miles back on I-95 south, beyond the city toward the tunnels under the harbor.
All lanes were re-opened by 4: 55 p.m.
Highway crews diverted traffic to U.S. 1 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, as well as to the Baltimore Beltway and U.S. 29.
"It was definitely a major problem," said Buck. "But it's why we had a plan in place."
By 5: 30 p.m., the focus had shifted back to getting fans to the 7 p.m. Orioles game or the 8 p.m. Redskins game in Prince George's County.
"If not for this very unfortunate incident, it would have gone extremely well," he said.
Throughout the day, traffic turned out to be unusually light, indicating that many people took the day off from work, officials said.
Aware of the potential for traffic problems, Tom and Karen Vaclavicek of Bristow, Va., left home early for the Ravens game -- expecting a three-hour trip because of traffic congestion.
Instead, it took them an hour and 15 minutes and they arrived at 10: 45 a.m.
"There were no delays whatsoever," said Karen Vaclavicek.
The state Mass Transit Administration reported much higher than average ridership levels on
the light rail and park-and-ride buses.
Last night, people driving into the city for the baseball game made elaborate plans to carpool and talked about roads off I-95 as if they were human arteries.
If they arrived on time, they bragged of the routes they took. If they were late, they bemoaned their choice of roads.
Karen and Charles Saunders began their trip to Camden Yards at 4 p.m. from their jobs in College Park and Rockville.
They planned to meet at their Columbia home at 5 p.m. but Charles was a half-hour late because of traffic on U.S. 29. Then they raced off to Woodlawn to pick up Karen's sister, made it downtown on back roads, and circled the stadium six times looking for parking.
They arrived at 8: 15 p.m. "We figured it would be easier to all get into one car," said Karen Saunders, a lab scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Seth Howard was braced for the worst. He didn't get a ticket until late and pulled out of Columbia at 6: 20 p.m. He figured he'd be an hour late for the game. But he arrived at 7 p.m. "I was actually surprised. I thought it would be a mob scene," said Howard, 25.
And after unusually heavy traffic Thursday evening at the Bay Bridge toll booths, yesterday proved remarkably light there, with no delays. Typically, late Friday afternoon backups can extend a mile as vehicles wait to cross the bridge.
"It's been a better than typical Friday," Kerry Brandt, of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said of the traffic in the I-95 corridor yesterday -- before the accident.
Sun staff writers Nancy Youssef and Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 9/04/99