Anticipating that a record 605,000 Marylanders will take to the roads over the long Fourth of July weekend, state police plan to increase patrols to catch speeders, reckless drivers and motorists under the influence of alcohol.
Troopers will be on the roads in marked and unmarked patrol cars, and they will be using radar, VASCAR -- a system that emits no radio or light beams -- and laser devices to catch speeders. State police will be especially vigilant on U.S. 50, the major highway leading to Ocean City, and troopers from the Berlin Barrack will be working all the roads in and out of the resort town.
"This is the busiest travel holiday of the summer, and our priority is to keep Maryland highways safe for those traveling in or through our state," said Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, superintendent of the state police. "Whether you're traveling north, south, east or west, you will find troopers."
State police also will be looking for motorists and passengers who do not use seat belts.
"We're looking for a big weekend," Ocean City Mayor James N. Mathias Jr. said yesterday, pointing out that eastbound traffic over the Bay Bridge was heavier than usual yesterday, an indication that the weekend will be busy at the beachfront destination.
John White, a spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic AAA, said its predictions indicate that this will be the busiest Fourth of July weekend in a decade. The number of Marylanders expected on the roads through Monday is up 5 percent from last year's 592,000 motorists, White said.
Yesterday, backups were reported on the Harry W. Nice Bridge, at the Bay Bridge, on U.S. 50 near the Bay Bridge, in the Towson and southwest areas of the Baltimore Beltway, and on Interstate 70, state officials said.
Maryland Transportation Authority Police are strengthening their presence on roads leading to bridges and tunnels, but the agency will be careful not to disrupt traffic, spokeswoman Katie Leahan said. As part of the agency's homeland security mission, it began operating three new marine patrol boats Thursday. They patrol the port of Baltimore, and areas around bridges and tunnels, she said.
White advised drivers to give their cars a "once over" -- including checking belts and hoses, coolant, oil levels and tire pressure -- before traveling. He also said the best times to travel to avoid the worst of the Bay Bridge traffic are before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m.
At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, passenger volume has been heavy since Wednesday, said airport spokesman Jonathan Dean. Volume is expected to be high through the holiday weekend and into Wednesday.