Thursday, May 22, 2003

Alert status hovers over our holiday

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The nation's return to a high level terrorism alert could complicate Memorial Day plans for some travelers.

Thousands of Greater Cincinnati travelers will hit the highways and airport terminals this Memorial Day weekend in a rush to celebrate the unofficial start of summer.

State troopers and police will be out in full force watching for speeders, drunken drivers and those not wearing seatbelts on what is historically one of the most lethal holiday weekends of the year.

AAA Cincinnati estimates about 35 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this weekend.

The number of travelers is up by less than 1 percent from last year, despite a sluggish economy and lingering effects from the war with Iraq.

About 29.4 million travelers (84 percent of all holiday travelers) are expected to go by motor vehicle. Another 3.9 million plan to travel by airplane and 1.7 million will go by train, bus or other mode of transportation, according to AAA.

Those traveling by air can expect tighter security at airports nationally, including the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Because of the recent raising of the nation's terrorism alert status, security personnel nationally are conducting random visible outside checks of any vehicle approaching airport terminals.

That procedure was put into place Wednesday morning at the Cincinnati airport. In addition, airport police officers will be conducting more frequent patrols of the terminals and of the airport's perimeter.

The airport's bomb dog squad will also conduct more frequent searches of public and secure areas.

"And for everything the public will see, there will be a lot more going on behind the scenes that the public will not see," said Chris Rhatigan, spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, an agency created in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Ohio State Highway Patrol and Kentucky State Police plan to increase staffing through Monday. Eighty percent of all personnel at Ohio State Patrol posts will be on duty, while the Kentucky State Police have set up more than 79 checkpoints over a 10-county area.

Tractor-trailers will undergo inspections 24 hours per day at weigh stations and waterways and state parks will see increased patrols.

Ohio and Kentucky are in the midst of a two-week law enforcement blitz designed to encourage more residents to buckle their seatbelts.

Law enforcement agencies in both states said they have adopted a no-tolerance policy for motorists who fail to buckle up.

There is some good news for those traveling by ground: Gas prices in the Tristate are slightly below where they were in the week leading up to Memorial Day last year, according to data provided by Oil Price Information Service.

James Pilcher contributed to this report. E-mail

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