According to AAA, 35.5 million Americans will take to the roads and skies over the Labor Day holiday. They will pour $13.5 billion into the U.S. economy—up two percent over 2014. Each American taking a trip for the Labor Day long weekend is expected to spend an average of $380 on goods and services. However, U.S. Travel’s survey found that hassles caused by failing surface and air travel infrastructure will keep 4.1 million potential travelers at home—costing the economy $1.4 billion in spending.
And with Congress unable to pass long-term bills on the nation’s highways and air travel system—both due this year—the problem will persist and grow worse for Labor Days to come.
The survey, conducted for U.S. Travel by the firm TNS, found that even among those who plan to travel this weekend, 8.7 percent will stay fewer days and 9.1 percent will travel shorter distances due to concerns over road congestion and flying headaches. Factoring in those shortened trips, the total Labor Day economic cost of hassles due to infrastructure rises to $1.7 billion.
“The old adage holds true: Americans vote with their pocketbooks—and in this case, they’re voting against how Washington has handled our transportation policy,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “We’ve seen time and again that travel dollars are among the most economically stimulating, job-creating dollars there are. The lack of a long-term strategy for our highways and air travel system has created the perception for many that they’re better off staying home.
“Our infrastructure problems go way beyond mere inconvenience—they’re causing economic harm, and we need a long-term vision for tackling them.”
Trip spending by auto travelers is expected to average $270, according to U.S. Travel’s survey. With AAA projecting 30.4 million travelers by car, that totals out to $8.2 billion—an increase of 0.5 percent over 2014. The fact that the spending figure will increase at all is significant, say U.S. Travel Association researchers, given that gasoline is considerably cheaper than a year ago.
Expected trip spending by air travelers is significantly higher at $1,090 on average, for a total weekend spending figure of $2.9 billion—a year-over-year increase of 4.9 percent—based on AAA’s projection of 2.6 million air travelers.
The remaining $2.4 billion in predicted Labor Day spending will come from the 2.5 million Americans expected to travel by “other means.”
Dow notes that Congress was due to pass both a surface transportation bill and the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration this year, but that progress on both pieces of legislation has been disappointing. Work on the FAA bill has been delayed until late September at the earliest, and lawmakers recessed for August having only managed to pass a very short-term fix for highways.
Dow pointed to the just-released rankings of global airports put out annually by Skytrax, in which the U.S. boasted just a single airport in the top 30 (Cincinnati, #30) and all of four in the top 50. This, he said, is costing the U.S. economy dearly both in terms of domestic and international travel.
Dow called on House and Senate leaders to redouble their efforts on a long-term highways measure, and to pass an FAA bill that cuts airline ticket taxes and fundamentally shifts the system to a user fee-based finding model—which would channel more funds to projects that would relieve congestion and increase airline competition.