Holiday travel rush gets off to easy start
by TOM DAVIS and WILLIAM LAMB
For all the pre-Thanksgiving panic about holiday gridlock, those who set out on Wednesday had a relatively easy time getting out of town.
Passengers arrived hours early for flights at Newark Liberty International Airport, where low-hanging fog caused delays as long as 57 minutes, mostly on arriving flights, said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Departing flights were on time, for the most part. A Port Authority spokesman, Pasquale DiFulco, said the airport had about 15 percent more traffic than it has on a typical Wednesday -- enough to create long, slow-moving lines at check-in counters. Passengers passed the time by tapping on laptop computers, chatting on cellphones, or just sitting on their luggage.
Still, with planes taking to the air more or less on schedule, DiFulco said he had "seen regular Wednesdays that look worse than this."
Suzanne Safarowic wasn't taking any chances. She and her family left home in Leonia four hours before their 5:45 p.m. flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"I'd rather take my time and sit than be rushing through the security line," she said.
David Thompson, who was heading back to his home near Edinburgh, Scotland, after a New York City vacation, arrived at Newark several hours before his 7:50 p.m. flight.
"We were really surprised," he said. "When we got here, we expected to have a lot of problems."
Getting around by car was a little trickier. By late afternoon, a 6-mile backup had developed on the southbound New Jersey Turnpike near Exit 8A, said Joe Orlando, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
NJ Transit officials, meanwhile, called Wednesday "a quiet day" because many people took the day off or left work as early as 2 p.m.
"We see an early peak period, but then throughout the weekend we'll see full trains of people going into the city," said Penny Bassett-Hackett, NJ Transit spokeswoman.
Trains will operate on a holiday schedule until 6 a.m. Friday, and NJ Transit also will allow up to two children, ages 11 and younger, to travel free with each fare-paying adult until 6 a.m. Monday.
The Pascack Valley Line also will provide Saturday and Sunday service this weekend for the first time in 60 years.
The state Department of Transportation, meanwhile, said there were few problems early Wednesday as officials expect a typically dramatic jump in traffic volume – 10 percent to 15 percent – from normal levels during the weekend.
Construction work on state highways – including the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway -- was suspended to "improve safety and mobility as we celebrate Thanksgiving," Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri said.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority is anticipating a total of 3.9 million vehicles to travel the turnpike through Monday -- with 568,000 expected to hit the road on Thanksgiving Day.
The Garden State Parkway -- which the authority operates -- will have 6.6 million vehicles during the six-day holiday period, said Orlando. Slightly more than 1 million will use the road on Thanksgiving.
The Turnpike Authority expects moderate traffic volume to remain steady for the duration of the Thanksgiving weekend, with the concentration of traffic at Interchanges 1-4, 11, 14, 18W and just south of 8A.
Parkway traffic also will remain steady for the duration of the weekend from the Bergen Toll Plaza through to the Toms River Toll Plaza, Orlando said.