Holiday weekend off to smooth start

Maryland travelers flooded airports, train stations and local roads yesterday, putting authorities on the alert but causing few problems on what was expected to be the busiest travel day of the holiday weekend.

The number of people leaving home over the Christmas weekend was expected to be slightly up from last year, despite rising gasoline prices and airfares.


"Because Christmas is falling on a Tuesday, it's sort of viewed as a four-day weekend for most people," said Ragina C. Averella, public and government affairs manager for AAA. "That encourages people to travel."

One of them was Paule Nzekio, a 24-year-old information technology specialist from Owings Mills, who waited at Penn Station last night to board a train to New York. After driving at 3 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to visit her family in northern New Jersey, she decided to take the train this time.


"I didn't want to drive," Nzekio said. "Just gas, traffic. It was going to be more stressful."

Airfares that an AAA spokeswoman estimated to be 16 percent higher this year than last did not deter passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. An estimated 71,000 people were expected to pass through the airport yesterday - slightly higher than the number of people who traveled on the busiest day of last year's holiday weekend.

The airport boosted the number of customer-service employees for the occasion, but there were few problems, spokesman Jonathan Dean said.

"Travel has been efficient and smooth throughout the day," Dean said.

There were similar reports about Maryland's roads.

AAA reported earlier this week that the average gasoline price in Maryland was $2.95 a gallon, down from a month ago but 64 cents more expensive than it was a year ago.

A spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration said traffic was brisk. But she knew of no major problems on Interstates 95 and 695 as of late yesterday afternoon. A three-vehicle accident on the Capital Beltway in Prince George's County closed one lane, but the road was cleared by midafternoon, she said.

An increased number of emergency traffic patrols were operating to help motorists who run out of gas, have flat tires or experience other problems.


Amtrak reported that many trains were sold out but that others had available seats.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and Maryland State Police announced a "saturation patrol" this weekend on Interstate 95 in the Baltimore area to crack down on drunken driving.

Unlike a checkpoint, which stops all motorists passing along a certain stretch of highway, a saturation patrol is made up of a group of officers who flood a targeted area looking specifically for driving behavior that could indicate intoxication.

Cpl. Jonathan Green, spokesman for the transportation police, said signs of intoxication include weaving, erratic lane changes, driving too fast or driving too slow. He said drivers who are stopped and found to be sober will be given information about drunken-driving laws.

The transportation police will concentrate their efforts on parts of I-95 that come under their jurisdiction - from the city line south of the Fort McHenry Tunnel to the Delaware state line.

Green declined to say precisely when the patrols would be out but indicated that they could be in effect at any time through tomorrow night.



Some liquids and gels are permitted again for airplane carry-on if each is in a container 3 ounces or smaller and all are carried in a single zip-lock bag.

Medications, baby formula and food, breast milk, and juices are also permitted in reasonable quantities. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint.

Still prohibited: knives, snow globes, box cutters, baseball bats, golf clubs and some other items.

Carry-on gifts should not be wrapped.


[ Sources: AAA-Mid-Atlantic, Transportation Security Administration]


1.3 million Marylanders will travel 50 miles or more from home during this holiday period.

About 1.05 million, or 81 percent, will travel by car.

An estimated 202,140, or 15.5 percent, will go by airplane.