- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

State police are boosting patrols and cracking down on dangerous drivers as thousands of travelers are expected to take to area highways for Thanksgiving.

More than 37 million people in the United States will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday weekend, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. About 594,000 Washington-area residents are expected to drive out of town, and area law-enforcement agencies plan to handle the crunch by putting more officers on the roads.

“Enforcement is 50 percent of the game,” said Sgt. Rob Moroney, Maryland State Police spokesman. “The other 50 percent is getting people on the road to their destinations. That’s the No. 1 thing.”

Weather could play a role on area roadways. Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., predicted a 40 percent chance of rain or snow showers in the area tomorrow night and a 20 percent chance of rain or snow on Thursday.

The area’s last Thanksgiving Day snow, a light dusting, fell in 1995, forecasters said.

Almost all of Maryland’s 1,500 state troopers will be working a shift during the holiday weekend, which begins tomorrow, Sgt. Moroney said. Troopers will be looking specifically for speeders, aggressive drivers and motorists driving under the influence.

“We’re having extra troopers out to clear minor crashes, to assist people who are disabled and to keep the roads flowing during the in-and-out crunch times,” Sgt. Moroney said. “We’re going to have a lot of troopers out there.”

In Virginia, all available state police troopers will be on patrol through the extended holiday weekend as part of Operation CARE (Combined Accident Reduction Effort), a national program designed to decrease crashes, fatalities and injuries caused by reckless driving.

Last year, state police said 19 motorists were killed in 18 crashes during the five-day weekend, the highest number of traffic fatalities in Virginia during the holiday in the past five years. Alcohol was a factor in five of the crashes, and nine of those killed were not wearing seat belts.

About 45 extra troopers will be patrolling in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, state police spokesman Sgt. Terry Licklider said.

“The main thing is visibility,” Sgt. Licklider said. “It seems like that is more of a deterrent than anything.”

Although D.C. police and county police departments are not stepping up patrols drastically, they will be working to keep roads clear and safe, officials said.

“We will have a full staff of officers out there,” said Officer Derek Baliles, a Montgomery County police spokesman. “The state police are going to concentrate on the interstates. We’re going to concentrate on the county roads and neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, transportation officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia said lane closures will be suspended at construction sites to ease traffic congestion.

Joan Morris, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said lanes will be opened at sites such as the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Springfield Interchange beginning at noon tomorrow, but motorists should plan appropriately to avoid peak travel times.

“Any savvy traveler knows to try to get where you’re going to by Wednesday at noon,” she said. “On Sunday, the best advice is to try to get back home by 11 a.m. or noon.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation will have service patrols on the interstates to assist stalled motorists and remove wreckage. In Maryland, the State Highway Administration will have an additional four to five crews in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Motorists can visit www.marylandroads.com and check the flow of traffic through 39 surveillance cameras placed in potentially high-incident areas.

In the District, transportation department spokesman Bill Rice said the city generally doesn’t see as much traffic as the suburbs during the holidays, but officials will be setting traffic signals to outbound patterns tomorrow at noon to ease the exit flow of traffic.

“Traffic tends to be lighter, but we still want to be sure everybody has as easy a pre-Thanksgiving travel as possible,” Mr. Rice said.

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