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Busy Travel Weekend Raises Concerns About Transportation Infrastructure


Highways across the country are already busy and the lines are starting at airports. Welcome to the Independence Day weekend. AAA predicts nearly 42 million Americans will be traveling at least 50 miles from home - the most since 2008. And NPR's David Schaper reports from Chicago a growing number of travelers, and the businesses that rely on them, worry about the condition of the nation's transportation infrastructure.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Traffic is already getting heavy, but it is moving here on the Tri-State Tollway just outside of Chicago as a lot of families are looking to get an early start on their getaway for this long holiday weekend.

ROISIN DOHL: We've always done road trips. I love road trips.

SCHAPER: Roisin Dohl of Chicago is heading up to Lake Geneva, Wisc., with her two kids - a 5-year-old and an 11-year-old, plus one more.

DOHL: This one is a friend, so he's the one keeping it sane. These two, if they were together just by themselves, they'd be fighting the whole time, so bringing an extra one to calm the backseat (laughter).

SCHAPER: That doesn't seem to be a problem for this father-daughter duo from a suburban Geneva, Ill.

LANE BURNS: Lane Burns.

MORGAN BURNS: Morgan Burns.

L. BURNS: And we're going up to Summerfest.

SCHAPER: That's the city of Milwaukee's big annual lakefront music festival. Lane Burns says he loves taking road trips as a way to reconnect with his now young adult children. The only drawback - road construction.

L. BURNS: Summer - all the orange things pop out of the ground and traffic slows down. It's just the way it is.

SCHAPER: Orange things meaning cones.

L. BURNS: Yes, exactly, exactly. These just seem to...

M. BURNS: Signs.

L. BURNS: ...Kind of pop out of the ground and there you go.

SCHAPER: It's like the snowfall actually encourages their growth.

L. BURNS: Seems like it, yes. There is a correlation.

SCHAPER: But Burns says congestion is getting worse, and he's concerned about the crumbling state of the nation's transportation infrastructure.

L. BURNS: It's a shame what our government's done to us. It's just a shame.

SCHAPER: And the U.S. Travel Association is concerned, too. The lobbying group that represents the tourism industry says this Fourth of July weekend means big business.

DAVE HUETHER: We estimate that travelers are going to spend about $15.8 billion during this weekend.

SCHAPER: The U.S. Travel Association's Dave Huether says all that spending is a big boost to the nation's economy, but he says increasingly travelers are finding bottlenecks, congestions and delays on the roads, rails and in the skies.

HUETHER: If we don't work on the infrastructure problems going forward, travelers who, unfortunately, sometimes may face bottlenecks may face it more - even more often in the years going forward.

SCHAPER: The federal Highway Trust Fund is due to run out of money at the end of this month. The travel industry is one of many groups urging Congress to enact a long-term sustainable funding solution instead of another short-term extension, as it has done repeatedly over the last several years. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.