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For Holiday Travel, Change at Every Turn

Airport, Train Security Tightening, but Highway Backups May Not Be as Severe

By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2004; Page A01

This holiday season will probably be the busiest traveling period since before the 2001 terror attacks, and travelers will be greeted with many changes on the roads, rails and airports.

The newest change is an underground walkway that opened yesterday at Dulles International Airport and gives passengers a quicker alternative to the mobile lounges.

Travelers at Dulles International Airport use a new walkway to get between Concourse B and the main terminal instead of riding the mobile lounges. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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Parking spots at Dulles and Reagan National airports could be filled this week because of passengers attracted by low fares and an increased sense of security. Local airports advise passengers to arrive 2 to 2 1/2 hours ahead of time for domestic flight departures but also suggest checking with airlines. Also, the security lines will probably be extra long. New security regulations require passengers to take off all outerwear, including coats, suit coats, jackets and blazers.

On the roads, some Virginia drivers will get a break because the state's Smart Tag electronic toll collection system is now integrated with E-ZPass, speeding trips through toll stations all the way to Massachusetts.

On the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, workers finished repairing a botched paving job last week, so all lanes will be open for the holidays. Most other local construction projects will be sidelined from noon tomorrow until Monday.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said ridership could hit record levels this week and reminded customers that through Monday all trains in the Northeast corridor require reservations. He also said that new regulations require riders over 18 to carry photo identification and limit carry-on bags to two per passenger.

Many in the travel industry predict that this will be the heaviest Thanksgiving travel season since before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which would follow the busiest summer travel season since then as well.

Highways in the Washington area are likely to be jammed from early tomorrow afternoon through the remainder of the day. Traffic probably will be heavy on Thanksgiving as well because so many people hoping to avoid backups now wait until the holiday itself to drive.

The only sure way to avoid tie-ups, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend, is to leave "after midnight."

Townsend said AAA expects 676,000 Washington area residents to travel this week, a 4.5 percent increase from last year.

Motorists heading to points north will be happy to see a new, 23-lane toll station at the southern end of the New Jersey Turnpike, which includes four express electronic lanes drivers can use without slowing down.

The legendary hours-long backups behind the toll plaza could be reduced dramatically. "This plaza is designed for these types of holiday getaway days," turnpike spokesman Joe Orlando said.

The outlook is a bit less rosy in Pennsylvania. Turnpike officials have warned drivers against taking the state's main east-west route because they expect toll collectors and other workers to go on strike late tonight or tomorrow.

Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said that he and other managers would staff toll booths if there is a strike but that there would be about 12 hours between the start of the strike and their arrival. Even after they get there, their lack of experience will likely add to delays expected by the crush of motorists, DeFebo said.

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