IMAGE: YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Al Golub  /  AP
Yosemite National Park, seen here at the Tioga Pass entrance, ranked 13th in a new list of most congested tourist spots for this summer.
msnbc.com
updated 6/30/2005 6:00:56 PM ET 2005-06-30T22:00:56

Taking a summer vacation by car? If so, you might want to reconsider if your destination shows up on a list released Thursday of the 25 most congested tourist spots. The list covers the country — from The Hamptons on New York's Long Island, to Yosemite National Park in California.

The Oregon coast topped the list, which is based on expected travel delays resulting from traffic bottlenecks.

“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.,” Greg Cohen, head of the American Highway Users Alliance, said in a statement.

AAA and TRIP, a transportation research group, partnered with the alliance to produce the list and study.

Busiest summer ever predicted
The partners noted that 2005 is likely to be the nation’s busiest summer travel vacation period ever, with 328 million leisure trips expected — up 2.3 percent from 2004.

And AAA estimates this July Fourth weekend will have more American vacationers on the road – 33.9 million – than even on Thanksgiving.

The study defined bottlenecks as "sections of roads or highways and bridges that lack adequate capacity to handle peak traffic loads during periods of high demand."

The list, shown here in order, was based on existing bottlenecks in an area, number of traffic lanes, and estimated summer travel trips and miles driven:

  • The Oregon coast
  • Tidewater region of Virginia
  • Maryland/Delaware shore
  • Branson, Mo.
  • Outer Banks, N.C.
  • Cape Cod, Mass.
  • New Jersey shore
  • Napa Valley, Calif.
  • Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish Country
  • Catskill Mountains region in New York
  • Pocono Mountains/Lake Wallenpaupack, Penn.
  • Provo Canyon, Utah
  • Yosemite National Park, Calif.
  • Asheville, N.C.
  • Sun Valley, Idaho
  • Lake Tahoe Area, Nev.-Calif.
  • Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H.
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.-Idaho-Mont.
  • Presque Isle State Park, Penn.
  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • White Mountains, N.H.
  • Lake George, N.Y.
  • Myrtle Beach, S.C.
  • Whitewater region, Idaho
  • The Hamptons, Long Island, N.Y.

The partners said travel delays on roads leading to urban tourist attractions — like the theme parks near Orlando, Fla. — were not included because it was not possible to separate tourism and commuting traffic in the analysis.

Officials in at least one of the areas identified as vacation bottlenecks took issue with the AAA study's methodology and the media's characterization of it.

"While the Outer Banks of North Carolina does see a high level of traffic coming from the north to the area and congestion is expected on Saturday and Sunday due to the weekly turnover of a few hundred thousand visitors we do not experience the traffic congestion during the week," said Carolyn McCormick, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. "The story does a disservice to this community when your reporter tells people to reconsider their travel plans."

Call for project funding
The partners urged Congress to reauthorize a transportation bill to fund road and bridge improvements.

“Seasonal traffic congestion will get much worse unless road and bridge improvements are made at these bottlenecks,” said TRIP Executive Director Will Wilkins.

Cohen stated that “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.”

The study also cited these statistics about U.S. travel:

  • Summer is traditionally the busiest vacation season of the year, with 33 percent of all leisure travel occurring then.
  • When Americans go on vacation, they are most likely to travel by private vehicle. For vacation trips of 100 miles or longer one way, 85 percent of trips are taken by private vehicles, 12 percent are taken by airplane and the remaining three percent are taken by other means, including rental cars and trains.
  • Total travel and tourism expenditures by domestic and foreign visitors are expected to be $633 billion in 2005, supporting 7.3 million jobs during the year.
  • Work-related travel accounts for only 18 percent of all trips. Social and recreational travel accounts for 27 percent of all trips.
  • Traffic volume, measured by the amount of traffic per-lane-mile, is actually increasing faster on rural roads than on major urban roads. Most of the routes leading to the nation’s favorite summer tourist destinations are rural. From 1990 to 2002, traffic per-lane-mile on major rural roads increased by 29 percent compared to an 18 percent increase on major urban roads.

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