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Every other Thanksgiving, Michael Schwartzberg and his family make the trek from Pikesville to North Hills, N.Y., to share a turkey dinner with his parents at their home on Long Island.

This is their year to visit, so the busiest travel day of the year found the family on the road - headed into to the heart of the nation's most populous metropolitan area. With Schwartzberg's wife, Stacey Needle, behind the wheel and their sons, 6 and 9, in back, the family joined an estimated 794,000 other Marylanders who took to the roads in spite of all the compelling reasons to stay home.

This year, the Schwartzbergs broke with tradition and avoided Interstate 95 by charting a course through Pennsylvania. By late afternoon, as they approached the Holland Tunnel to Manhattan after a mostly congestion-free trip on Interstates 83, 81 and 78 (except for a little unpleasantness at Harrisburg), Michael Schwartzberg was glad they avoided 95.

Using his BlackBerry, the Pikesville man tracked the tales of woe that bedeviled auto travelers in the Northeast corridor.

He learned of a trip from Washington to Baltimore that took nearly two hours instead of the more typical one as northbound traffic backed up on I-95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. He read about the backup on the Delaware Turnpike, where motorists paid a $4 toll for the privilege of crawling through the state.

Other travelers reported an hourlong delay to reach the Bay Bridge as traffic backed up on U.S. 50. With the bridge shrouded in fog, only two eastbound lanes were open for peak travel hours instead of the usual three.

Online traffic services reported stubborn southbound delays along I-95 in Northern Virginia. Just before 5 p.m., a vehicle fire snarled traffic at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. It was, all in all, a fairly typical Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

One of the bright spots in the travel picture was Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, which appeared to be running smoothly in spite of heavy traffic. BWI expected to handle about 73,000 travelers Wednesday and more than 350,000 through Monday, the end of the holiday period.

Cynthia McIlwain, a 26-year-old secretary from Mobile, Ala., didn't think she'd get to see her husband, Jeremy, on Thanksgiving. Jeremy, 36, has battled cancer for most of his life and was undergoing chemotherapy at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, she said. Then McIlwain's best friend surprised her with a plane ticket to see Jeremy this weekend.

"The Lord has always provided," she said. "There's a reason for everything." McIlwain didn't tell Jeremy she was coming and planned on surprising him at his bedside. As of Wednesday afternoon, he still thought McIlwain was in Alabama. "I'm tickled," she said. "He's called me and his family, and they have done some heavy talking to convince him that I'm not here."

Others found less expensive ways to get around the country.

Michelle Bershad, an 18-year-old sophomore at Towson University, paid only $1.50 for a one-way ticket to New York City on BoltBus. Bershad was one of about two dozen riders waiting outside Penn Station for the bus, which began service between Washington and New York last year.

"There's a lot of traffic, but it's much cheaper," she said.

Nearing their destination after a trip of more than six hours, the Schwartzberg family took satisfaction in having crossed Manhattan in a mere 15 minutes on their every-other-year Thanksgiving visit to Michael's parents. For his wife, every other year is enough.

"For me, it's actually easier to prepare a meal for all 15 people at my house," Needle said. "I have been looking forward to next year before we even got in the car."

Baltimore Sun reporter Sam Sessa contributed to this article.

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