Money & Business

What If Labor Day Traffic Were the Norm?

By / Sep 4, 2013 (Comstock/Thinkstock)

Congested highways like the ones you may have encountered in your travels last weekend could become an everyday occurrence, according to a new study by the U.S. Travel Association. And that spells trouble for the economy.

As the nation got back to work this week after the Labor Day holiday weekend, the U.S. Travel Association had some grim news. If current highway-usage and growth trends continue, the group said in a new report, Labor Day-like traffic—at 140 percent to 160 percent of average volumes—will soon plague U.S. highways on the typical day of the week.

USTA looked at 16 major interstate corridors throughout the U.S., including stretches of Interstate 95 from Boston, through Washington, DC, and down to Palm Beach, Florida, and the often jam-packed Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Diego.

“There is simply too much at stake for our economy and quality of life to let travel in America grind to a halt.”

“Traveling with relative ease cannot be taken for granted, whether it’s for business or pleasure,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of USTA, said in a statement. “If the average day on the road resembled those brutal periods when bumper-to-bumper traffic is the norm, it would devastate our economy and way of life. For a great number of America’s major corridors, that day is not that far down the road.”

Traffic at volumes typically seen on holiday weekends like Labor Day—which saw 34.1 million people hit the road, according to a AAA report, the highest total since the recession—could be an everyday occurrence by 2020 without an increase in infrastructure investment and policy changes, USTA said.

“While some improvements have been made in the last decade, the current level of investment is not nearly enough to prepare us for what’s ahead,” said Dow. “There is simply too much at stake for our economy and quality of life to let travel in America grind to a halt.”

According to a recent survey commissioned by USTA, 58 percent of Labor Day travelers said they would significantly alter their yearly travel habits if Labor Day-like conditions existed year round, which could have a major impact on jobs and the economy, the association said. According to USTA, if auto travelers avoided one day of travel per year, the economy would lose $23 billion in travel spending, which would result in the loss of 208,000 jobs.

The highway-usage report is the first in a series of travel-infrastructure studies that USTA will release over the next several months. The air travel portion of the study will be released before Thanksgiving.

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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