By Amy Dominello and Virginia Mccord
Heading to grandma’s house for the holiday? Leave now.
Transportation officials say Monday may be the only day this holiday week that will not see heavy traffic on Maryland’s roads and at the state’s airports.
Highway officials predict traffic will be 2 to 5 percent heavier this Thanksgiving than last year, while holiday train travel will be up an estimated 5 percent and airports are expecting an increase in holiday travelers of up to 10 percent.
The numbers are even scarier when compared to a regular day: Amtrak said passenger volume on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after jumps 70 to 90 percent over a normal day.
“Everyone is leaving Wednesday,” said Elizabeth Valuet, a spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association Mid-Atlantic. “Avoid it if you can.”
In response to the crush, Maryland State Police will increase patrols over the weekend and the Maryland Transportation Authority will beef up staffing at toll facilities around the state, said Elana Mezile, a spokeswoman for the authority.
“We will have tow-truck drivers patrolling the tunnels and bridges,” she said. “The tow-trucks are able to remove vehicles in 13 minutes.”
Transportation authority officials expect more than 247,000 vehicles to use Chesapeake Bay Bridge and more than 602,000 vehicles through the Perryville toll plaza on Interstate 95. That is a 3 to 5 percent increase over last year’s holiday traffic totals.
The State Highway Administration is encouraging travelers to leave plenty of time for their trips and to avoid travel on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday — the peak travel days, said SHA spokeswoman, Valerie Edgar.
And Thanksgiving Day could be just as bad.
“Thanksgiving Day is a heavy traffic day all day because people are going to and from grandma’s house,” said Pete Piringer, a state police spokesman.
Don’t expect it to lighten up on Friday, said Piringer.
“Everyone goes shopping on Friday, so the heaviest traffic will be near shopping centers,” he said. It will be especially bad near the Eastern Shore’s outlet malls, said Piringer.
A survey of 1,500 adults by AAA estimates that about 7.2 million people will take to the roads throughout the Southeast, an increase of about 2 percent over holiday travel in the region last year.
Officials at Baltimore/Washington International Airport expect holiday travel to be up about 10 percent this year, with an estimated 259,000 people expected to travel through the airport this Thanksgiving.
“I suggest that passengers leave at least two hours from the time they find their parking spot to the time their flight leaves,” said BWI spokeswoman Sharon Perry.
Amtrak will provide extra service from Tuesday to Sunday to deal with the crush of travelers, said spokesman Clifford Black.
“This is the busiest travel period of the year for Amtrak,” said Black. “If we continue the trend we saw last year, we will see at least a 4 to 5 percent increase in passengers from last Thanksgiving.”
Average national ridership of 60,000 people a day rises by 30 percent over the Thanksgiving holiday, said Black. On Wednesday and Sunday of the holiday week, he said, ridership can rise 70 to 90 percent.
Public transit, meanwhile, will be cutting back for the holiday.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said Metrorail will be on a limited schedule on Thanksgiving Day, returning to regular service on Friday. MARC trains and Baltimore’s subway will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, with limited service on Friday.
If you can’t leave early, officials said, at least plan ahead and leave plenty of extra time.
“People only know one way home,” said Edgar, of the SHA. “They need to plan alternate routes in advance in case they are diverted.”