ANNAPOLIS – With anxiety about terrorist attacks lessening each year since 2001, those hitting the roads or taking to the skies this holiday season can focus their fears on something more mundane — traffic.
Nationally, 37.2 million people are expected to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday, up from 36.1 million last year. In Maryland, about 90,000 will travel by plane and another 615,000 people will drive, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Maryland is not the only state expecting high traffic volume. AAA expects nationwide travel to surpass levels seen before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In 2000, AAA projected 36.8 million travelers. The number fell to 35.3 million in 2001 and 35.2 million in 2002.
“It shows that the further we get away from 2001, the more confident travelers are,” said John White, AAA Mid-Atlantic manager of public and government relations.
While the increase is promising for the travel industry, it could spell trouble for motorists.
The Maryland State Highway Administration said it is always prepared for high traffic volume, but will make adjustments such as increasing emergency traffic patrols the day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after – traditionally the busiest travel days.
One of the things Maryland drivers are being encouraged to do is plan ahead. Motorists may view SHA cameras at Marylandroads.com to prepare for a trip. Motorists are also reminded to take safety precautions such as having an emergency kit in the car, said David Buck, SHA spokesman. That kit should include things like windshield washer fluid and flares.
“People should do that always,” said Buck. “Unfortunately it’s something that only gets talked about around the holidays.”
With so many drivers expected on the roads, safety is a concern for AAA as well.
“The more congested roads become, the less margin of error you have as a driver,” said White.
White stressed the importance of driving safely around bridges and toll plazas by choosing a lane early and staying in it to avoid accidents.
“We’re just trying to warn motorists to not get in such a hurry that they don’t remember the common sense things that can keep them safe, said White.
Airports and trains are also preparing for the hectic days ahead.
Amtrak added 60 trains in its Northeast corridor, running from Washington to Boston. Amtrak saw a record number of about 596,000 riders this time last year, said spokeswoman Tracy Connell.
Amtrak expects a 30 percent holiday increase over its typical 69,000 passengers per day nationally. An 80 percent increase nationally is expected for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, said Connell.
No significant delays are expected at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, but it is preparing for the busy holiday season, said Jonathan Dean, spokesman.
The airport is offering reduced rates in its hourly garage and is making sure it has enough personnel on hand to deal with screening.
Increased travel shows how people are not being deterred by safety concerns or even rising gas prices, White said. Average gas prices reached $1.96 Wednesday nationally and in Maryland, 46 cents higher than a year ago, according to AAA.
“When people want to see family and friends,” said White, “they’re not going to let anything get in their way.”