• Study
  • Aug 31st 2013 at 10:58AM
  • 33
With Labor Day weekend upon our American readers, many of you have probably loaded up your vehicles for the last road trip of the summer. But with Labor Day weekend comes traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. And while the Labor Day scrum is generally as bad as things get for the year, a study by the US Travel Association reports that a number of freeways across the country are in danger of heavily increased traffic levels becoming the new normal.

As originally reported on The Car Connection, Americans may be driving less, but the number of cars on our roads is outpacing that decline, which in turn places greater stress on the interstate network. Take Interstate 96, the freeway that runs from downtown Detroit to Grand Rapids, as an example. The only major cities on that east-west road, besides its termini, is the state capital, Lansing. But during Labor Day weekend, its traffic volume increases 154 percent. The USTA warns that unless a project is started quickly, the increased traffic flow will become the norm by 2030.

The USTA also analyzed 15 other major interstates, including three different stretches of I-95 on the country's east coast, I-5 between Los Angeles and San Diego, I-45 between Dallas and Houston and I-15 between southern California and Las Vegas. Each route was at risk of anywhere from 117- to 159-percent increases in traffic flow by 2040. See the map above for more examples.

All of that sounds pretty daunting, but we also have to wonder if advances in vehicle-to-vehicle communications and autonomous technology over the same period will go a long way toward increasing average traffic speeds by greatly reducing accidents while safely increasing traffic density through platooning.

Either way, scroll down to take a look at the complete study.
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Typical Day on U.S. Highways Will Soon Look Like Labor Day
Congestion Could Cost U.S. Economy 208,000 Jobs


AUGUST 29, 2013

Washington, D.C. - If current trends continue, Labor Day-like traffic will soon plague U.S. highways on the average day of the week, according to analysis prepared for the U.S. Travel Association.

The study examined highway usage data and growth rates along 16 key interstate corridors nationwide. Its conclusion: without investment and policy changes, average daily car volume will soon surpass that of the notoriously congested first weekend of September-within a decade in some places.

Given that major transportation projects can take 15 years to complete, timely relief is already beyond reach in some locales. There is still hope for other major highways, but only if leaders act soon.

"Traveling with relative ease cannot be taken for granted, whether it's for business or pleasure," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "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."

The 16 interstate segments included in the analysis were selected for their geographical diversity and the quality of the traffic data available for them. Together, they provide a reliable snapshot of the growing congestion on America's highways, according to Cambridge Systematics, the firm that conducted the analysis.

The Labor Day highway analysis is the first portion of a broad, multi-modal examination of travel infrastructure that U.S. Travel will release in installments through the fall.

Highways are not the only travel mode strained by extra volume on Labor Day weekend. A number of the nation's largest airports experience passenger volume peaks on Labor Day: Logan International Airport in Boston (171% of the daily average); Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (177%); LaGuardia Airport in New York (194%); Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta (219%); and, with the largest spike of all, Bob Hope Airport in Burbank (237%).

According to a new survey, 58 percent of recent Labor Day travelers said they would significantly alter their yearly travel habits if U.S. highways experienced Labor Day-like conditions on the "typical day." More than 38 percent of respondents would avoid at least one-to-five trips per year; while almost one in five travelers (19.5%) said they would stop taking long-distance trips altogether. To put these findings in perspective, if auto travelers avoided just one auto trip per year, the U.S. economy would lose $23 billion in travel spending, expenditures that would directly support 208,000 American jobs.

"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."

To prevent this crisis, the U.S. Travel Association in the coming months will propose a wide variety of policy prescriptions. Policies under consideration include: targeted investments in alternative modes of transportation; more flexible funding options for U.S. gateway airports; and the expanded use of innovative funding and public and private partnerships for nationally significant transportation projects.

Early analysis of the aviation data compiled for the broader study supports the popular belief that Thanksgiving is the peak domestic air travel day by total passenger volume. U.S. Travel plans to release the study's portion on air travel trends prior to Thanksgiving.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 33 Comments
      Robert Fahey
      • 1 Year Ago
      Hyperloop, O where are you?
      Jesus!
      • 1 Year Ago
      Houston is out of options. 45 cant get any wider on the north side unless they demolish a million buildings. Currently the southern part is being widened and that will def help with the Galveston flow. The only saving grace in this area is where I live, due south in Pearland. Hwy 288 is under plans to be widened with a tollway thru the middle. Metro rail hopefully is part of that plan. Great thing about this hwy is it was built in the 70s or 80s and it is extremely wide with tons of expansion room. I dont go into Houston much anymore, however, with the influx of people moving here I dont see the freeways getting anything but worse and worse.
      DougShep
      • 1 Year Ago
      As if I-96 didn't suck enough already
      Domenico Monti
      • 1 Year Ago
      I love cars, but they should only be used for long distances or leisure. High Speed Rails.... please!
        Greg
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Domenico Monti
        High speed rail is not idea for short distances, and its fixed route structure is poor for good coverage of an area where short distances are expected. Buses work much better in that scenario. Rail, especially high speed rail, works best for long distances, few stops, few destinations. High speed rail connecting cities that are a long drive but short flight are ideal. Rail for exurb to city center commutes can work well.
      Hazdaz
      • 1 Year Ago
      And this is why the current administration has been pushing to reignite high-speed rail in this country and aimed it squarely in the regions shown in the map above. You don't just build-out high speed rail or other public transportation in a few months or even a few years. It takes years of planning and building to get these systems build and working... so you work on them BEFORE the problem turns into a complete gridlock. So while Obama has been looking at the future and trying to alleviate some of these issues before they get too bad, the other party wants nothing to do with infrastructure spending here at home. God forbid we spend money on our own people and both create jobs and fix problems that will only get worse - oh no, the right-wing nuts in this country want nothing to do with that.
      Winglet
      • 1 Year Ago
      I don't believe these numbers (unless immigration spirals out of control). Before we worry about this, we should be focused on removing congestion from highway commutes that are acutely painful every day in 2013.
      cmcilroy35
      • 1 Year Ago
      Instead of high-speed rail, or any other idea, let's limit population. I favor quality of life over quantity of life. -Chris
        • 1 Year Ago
        @cmcilroy35
        [blocked]
      tsktsk3
      • 1 Year Ago
      ...and this is why people of my generation and younger don't care to own a car bring on the high-speed rail please
        Jesus!
        • 1 Year Ago
        @tsktsk3
        I think it has more to do with affordability. Im 34. At 17 I paid 40 bucks to fill up TWO tanks in an f150. Now it takes 70-100 to fill up just one. Cars are also more expensive to purchase. Its out of hand. New fuel alternatives cannot get here quick enough. Gas is too expensive.
          Hazdaz
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Jesus!
          Gas has little to do with it. We pay some of the lowest gas prices in the entire world and you are complaining about it?! Don't drive a gas guzzling POS and gas is not some massive burden in terms of cost... at least not in the US, its not. On the other hand, sitting in traffic to go 10 miles because there are no, or few, good alternatives for transportation IS one of the big reasons that younger people are fed up with cars. And I can't blame them. Cars are great and have their own purpose, but for the minutia of commuting to work or school, a built-up transit system in the US is the ONLY solution.
      Jason
      • 1 Year Ago
      Wonderful! I live on that I-4 Corridor, exit 55. Traffic around here is bad enough with all the Disney Vacationers from all over the world, renting cars and not truly knowing the rules of the road here.
        ishmaelcrowley
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jason
        I have to drive along the east coast, and I have to admit, that I-4 corridor is the most dangerous. There are a lot of extremely risky drivers on that route. The last time I drove through it, a car had flipped over in the middle of a sunny day and lay perched on its roof in the middle of the highway. No other cars involved. When the fog rolls in on I-4 it's incredibly dangerous. Most drivers just keep going along at the same speed, and if you drive over to the shoulder you might get hit as well. Be careful Jason, and good luck to you.
      strykerzzzz
      • 1 Year Ago
      The 2 lane (each way) I-65 corridor from Indianapolis to Chicago shown on the map is terrible and Indiana should invest in making it into 3 lanes each way. The semi trucks and excessive speeders are everywhere. At least 8 people have died this month along that section of road in various crashes.
        zach
        • 1 Year Ago
        @strykerzzzz
        Why would anybody live in that hell hole?
          Jerry
          • 1 Year Ago
          @zach
          If you like endless seas of corn over flat land as far as you can see, Indiana is heaven
      johnbravo6
      • 1 Year Ago
      Remove cops and speed limits...? Let people drive and that's exactly what they'll do.
      Eidolon
      • 1 Year Ago
      Dangit, this report is *really* not helpful. They say "if current trends continue", but how long have the trends continued already? Are they extrapolating from a traffic rate increase from the past two years, ten years, or twenty? That can tell you a lot about the stability of their data. Assuming that a potentially microcosmic trend will continue 20 years into the future isn't a given. Additionally, how do they arrive at the 208,000 jobs lost number? They're assuming lost consumer expenditure due to reduction of travel, but I don't think that necessarily correlates. After all, if people are traveling less, wouldn't they just spend locally instead? After all, an inability to travel doesn't affect their income level. Heck, they could buy more consumer goods because they'd be spending less on gas. So hotels, gas stations, and tourist traps might lose money. But job losses in one industry would balance out by gains in another. So... yeah, not a helpful report with the level of detail they've given.
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