Seasonal bottlenecks crimp summer travel plans

News American Highway Users Alliance July 01, 2005
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Summer traffic bottlenecks are forcing families to spend more time getting to their favorite recreational areas and less time enjoying their vacations, according to a new report released recently by a coalition of national transportation, travel and motorist advocacy groups.

The study, “Are we there yet? A report on summer traffic bottlenecks and steps needed to ensure that our favorite vacation destinations remain accessible,” lists the 25 summer tourist destinations with the highest level of delays caused by traffic bottlenecks in the U.S. Traffic bottlenecks are sections of roads or highways and bridges that lack adequate capacity to handle peak traffic loads during periods of high demand. Bottlenecks can choke traffic, delaying motorists, causing crashes, wasting fuel, emitting unnecessary pollutants and taking time away from daytrips.

The 10 summer tourist destinations with the worst summer traffic delays resulting from traffic bottlenecks are:

1. The Oregon Coast

2. Tidewater region of Virginia

3. Maryland/Delaware shore

4. Branson, Mo.

5. Outer Banks of North Carolina

6. Cape Cod, Mass.

7. New Jersey shore

8. Napa Valley, Calif.

9. Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish Country

10. Catskill Mountains region in New York

Travel delays on roads leading to urban tourist attractions – like the large theme parks near Orlando – were not included in this report because it was not possible to separate tourism and commuting traffic in the analysis conducted for this report.

The report was prepared by American Highway Users Alliances, AAA and TRIP – a national transportation research group. The technical research and compilation of data was performed by Cambridge Systematics.

“This study is a follow-up to our report on the most congested commuter bottlenecks in the country and is the first-of-its-kind effort to examine trends in recreational and tourist trips, which have become a significant part of vehicle travel in the U.S.,” said Greg Cohen, President and CEO of the American Highway Users Alliance. “Like the urban congestion that frustrates commuters daily, seasonal bottlenecks are slowing down vacationers and making trips to our country’s beautiful recreation areas more of a hassle. In our fast-paced society, vacation time is increasingly valuable and families deserve better than spending hours in traffic on the drive to their vacation spots.”

The 2005 summer travel season is expected to be the nation’s busiest summer travel vacation period ever, with 328 million leisure trips (trips for recreation of at least 50 miles) expected to occur during the summer of 2005 – an increase of 2.3% from the previous summer. The upcoming July Fourth holiday weekend will have more American vacationers on the road – 33.9 million, according to AAA’s holiday travel forecast – than even Thanksgiving.

“Seasonal traffic congestion will get much worse unless road and bridge improvements are made at these bottlenecks,” said TRIP Executive Director Will Wilkins. “Tourism continues to increase and rural communities, particularly those that enjoy access to desirable recreational features, continue to experience significant population gains. Given the importance of tourism and recreation to our economy, we cannot afford to allow access to some of our favorite vacation spots to become coked with traffic.”

Congress is currently deliberating over a new multi-year reauthorization of the federal transportation bill that will increase funding for road and bridge improvements through 2009. It is almost two years since the last transportation bill expired in Sept. 2003 and Congress has passed several short-term extensions of the old program. Today, the seventh such extension has expired as legislators and the White House work toward an agreement for a new long-term bill.

“Congress has the chance to do something about congestion for future summer travelers by passing a new transportation bill that increases funding for safety and mobility, reduces red-tape and promotes engineering innovation,” Cohen said. “We need the transportation bill signed into law now to get projects underway nationwide that will ease congestion at these seasonal bottlenecks.”

Additional findings of the report:

• The summer is traditionally the busiest vacation season of the year, with 33% of all leisure travel in the U.S. occurring during the summer months.

• Going on vacation is big business in the U.S. Total travel and tourism expenditures in the U.S. by domestic and foreign visitors is expected to be $633 billion in 2005, supporting 7.3 million jobs during the year.

• Congested roads are particularly vulnerable to significant traffic delays if there is a vehicle crash, severe weather or a lane is closed for construction.

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