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Thousands of motorists have been overcharged on their Maryland tolls, but officials hasten to add that refunds are made once the overbilling is discovered. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

No roadwork, but possibly snow, in store for travelers

ANNAPOLIS – Low gas prices, increased police presence, suspended roadwork, toll booth fail-safes – and a blast of early winter weather – are what’s in store for area travelers this Thanksgiving in Maryland.

The Maryland Transportation Authority initially said it expects a 1 percent increase in road traffic during the holiday travel period, between the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday following the holiday.

Regionally around Washington, D.C., AAA predicted, over 1 million area residents will be traveling during the holiday, just over a 3 percent increase from last year’s figures.

AAA attributes the increase in Thanksgiving motor travel nationwide to a better general economic climate and the lowest gas price averages since 2010, said AAA President Marshall Doney.

But a looming winter storm projected to dump up to several inches of snow or slush on part of the greater Baltimore area Wednesday and Thanksgiving Day may dampen some of that travel volume.

The Maryland Transportation Authority Police will dispatch additional patrols on Maryland roadways during Thanksgiving travel times to emphasize the new “Move Over” law, which includes tow vehicles, and will enforce drunken-driving violations, which typically see a spike during the holiday season, said Maryland Transportation Authority Police 1st Sgt. Jonathan Green.

The Maryland Transportation Authority Police patrols will be on standby during peak hours to quickly respond to any emergencies, including crashes and disabled vehicles, Green said.

“Traffic in this area is very fluid; it changes very rapidly,” Green said.

The Maryland State Highway Administration increases its emergency roadside patrols and suspends all non-emergency roadwork during Thanksgiving week, getting out of Maryland drivers’ way, said Charlie Gischlar, spokesman for the administration.

“Drivers should focus on driving,” Green said. “There are a lot less crashes when people are focused. Let someone else worry about navigating, texting, calling and using the phone.”

Preparing a vehicle with a quick checkup before traveling can help prevent a breakdown on the road, he said.

“A five-minute walk around your car helps a lot before going on a long trip,” Gischlar said. “Check everything, especially tire treads, batteries and hoses to make sure everything is in safe working order.”

Though it won’t happen in time for Thanksgiving, drivers on I-95 north of Baltimore will see some relief before the Christmas holidays on a new toll highway.

Between Dec. 6 and Dec. 12, Maryland motorists should find travel free on the all-video and E-ZPass Interstate 95 Express Toll Lanes, which extend from Joppa Road to the Interstates 895 and 95 split.

Beginning Dec. 13 E-ZPass prices one way for cars and motorcycles to travel the express lanes will be $1.75 during peak hours, $1.49 during off-peak and 70 cents during overnight hours.

The Maryland Transportation Authority anticipates the road will hasten the trip for motorists who use it, as well as ease traffic for drivers who stay on nearby local lanes, Sales said.

Anderson said he sees the “horrendous mess” of traffic buildups on Interstate 95 in the Baltimore area traveling to and from Wilmington, Delaware, where AAA Mid-Atlantic is headquartered.

When the Virginia 495 Express Lanes opened between Springfield and the Dulles Toll Road in November 2012, AAA was opposed, believing they would bring a “two-tiered transportation system where the rich will roll and the poor will poke,” Anderson explained.

“We know now from the express lanes in Virginia on Interstate 495 that express lanes take enough traffic off of regular ones, but there was real confusion among motorists when they opened,” Anderson said. “Drivers would unintentionally get on the toll lanes, and try to back up down the road along the shoulder.”