Labor Day traffic congestion could become everyday norm, US Travel Association says

Labor Day travelers contemplating a trip from Boston to Hartford on Interstate 84 might want to take note --- or take a helicopter. In 2011, vehicle volume on that stretch of highway was 149 percent higher than traffic on a typical day that year.

That’s one bit of information included in a new study from the US Travel Association. The study’s title: “Typical Day on US Highways Will Soon Look Like Labor Day.”

In other words, if policy changes and infrastructure investments aren’t made, “average daily car volume will soon surpass that of the notoriously congested first weekend of September—within a decade in some places,” said the association, a nonprofit group that represents the travel industry, and because big transportation projects can take a decade or more to complete, action needs to be taken quickly.

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In studying highway traffic, the study examined highway usage data and growth rates along 16 interstate corridors nationwide, including the I-84 corridor that many Boston area travelers use either to get to Greater Hartford or to another destination that requires them to pass through Hartford. The study uses data from 2011, the most recent year for which such information is available. In many of those 16 corridors, either Labor Day weekend or Thanksgiving weekend had the busiest traffic of that year.

The analysis of that data was conducted by Cambridge Systematics. Besides geographic diversity, one reason why those 16 corridors were selected for the study was that they are monitored by automatic traffic recorders, which collect data about vehicle volumes.

“Traveling with relative ease cannot be taken for granted, whether it’s for business or pleasure,” US Travel Association president and chief executive Roger Dow 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.”

According to a new survey, 58 percent of recent Labor Day travelers said they would alter their yearly travel habits if US highways regularly experienced Labor Day-like conditions

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

The association added that it is gearing up to propose a variety of policy prescriptions designed to prevent a “traffic crisis.”