Traffic is an imprecise, yet useful way to predict economic activity

By Vicki Hyatt | Sep 22, 2013

While there are many statistical ways to tell if the local economy is on the upswing, I sometimes use a less sophistical one based on traffic.

Working in the middle of downtown Waynesville, I remember the heights of the Great Recession when there was barely a car parked on Main Street and a drive down Russ Avenue looked like post-Apocalyptical movie scene.

This summer traffic has abnormally heavy, and yes, even crazy by Haywood standards, though those from metro areas aren't likely to agree.

For instance, street parking in downtown Waynesville is hard to find, even into the evening hours, and the Russ Avenue traffic has now shifted to West Waynesville now that Waynesville Commons is open.

Even on the two-lane roads where motorists can access the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway, traffic has been brisk. A couple weeks ago, I headed out to Cruso for their annual quilt show and had to wait until about a dozen cars passed before I could make a left-hand turn. I know that doesn’t sound like much of an inconvenience, but you have to consider the norm.

The next weekend I was heading toward Bethel on U.S. 276 S, following several cars which were spaced out comfortably and all were obeying the speed limit, which is 50 mph for good reason. The road is narrow, mountainous and has more than a few curves. A motorcycle came from behind quickly and proceeded to pass me on hill where visibility was poor. Unluckily for him, the oncoming vehicle he was headed straight toward was a N.C. Highway patrolman.

Knowing that no law enforcement could let that one go by, I prepared myself to pull over when I saw flashing lights, and sure enough, that’s just what happened.

I had my camera in the car and attempted to follow, thinking I could capture the traffic stop and explain the circumstances — and consequences.

The problem was, at the Juke Box Junction traffic light, there were three ways to go — on toward Cruso, toward Lake Logan, or on to Canton. I would have probably traveled faster to get the shot, but there were two vehicles still in front, and passing on that road is just not safe. It is also fruitless because as soon as you have passed the vehicles directly in front of you, you'll soon encounter another vehicle traveling the speed limit or even going slower.

In any event, at the light, I headed straight on to Cruso, but couldn’t find anything. Perhaps the motorcyclist and the patrolman both went another direction, or maybe the motorcyclist went one director and the patrolman the other, meaning the reckless act would have gone unpunished, which would have been unfortunate.

My casual observations about increased economic activity in the county based on the amount of traffic are also bolstered by hard statistics as well.

Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains Park and Blue Ridge Parkway are up, and accommodation tax collections, which indicate the number of overnight stays in the county, are up as well.

The county is now headed into its busiest season ever when even more visitors can be expected to come for the many planned festivals and the fall color season.

While the return of better times is welcome, I must confess, the winter months when fewer vehicles will be on the road will be a nice change of pace.

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