ANNAPOLIS, MAY 24 -- Expect delays: The annual pilgrimage to Ocean City that begins on the Friday before Memorial Day turns Maryland's Route 50 into a moving tailgate party.
Last year, more than 130,000 motorists headed east across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge during the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of summer. Based on experience, state transportation officials are expecting an additional 17,000 cars to make the journey this year.
Nevertheless, they said, there are still steps, short of staying home, beach-goers can take to keep their trek from becoming total dreck.
One way to avoid frustration: make the decision to travel during non-peak hours -- that is, after 11 p.m. Friday and after 3 p.m. Saturday heading east, and late Monday night or early Tuesday morning for the trip home, said Russell Ulrich, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
"Anytime after noon on Friday things are going to be a little bit hairy," Ulrich said. "You have to travel with a little discretion and be willing to alter your plans."
For the fourth year in a row, the highway administration will be rewarding drivers who make the extra effort to travel when the roads are least crowded by distributing discount coupon books at Bay Bridge toll booth for Ocean City attractions, Ulrich said.
Highway officials also advise travelers to learn in advance of the obstacles that may await them by listening to the traveler's advisory radio station (AM 530) or calling the state's "Reach the Beach" hot line at 1-800-541-9595.
"A lot of the frustration comes from people not knowing what's happening, whether there is an accident that's blocking the road or just regular traffic," Ulrich said.
For example, the reconstruction of Route 50 through Annapolis means that traffic will likely slow down quite a bit through that area, even though highway work will be suspended for the weekend, Ulrich said.
The raising of the Kent Narrows Bridge will also cause delays, he said. The good news is that the state completed work on the Vienna bridge and bypass, changes that may help eliminate one of the worst bottlenecks.
Ulrich said that motorists who take the time to plot out an alternative course across the Eastern Shore rather than relying on Route 50 may be able to shave some time off their travel.
Another alternative is to leave the car behind. Carolina Trailways has two buses from Washington to Ocean City each day. And Cumberland Airlines has commuter flights from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.