The following is an excerpt from our book, Tasting the Good Life in reference to a hot topic with tourism in Napa Valley. Traffic.
In terms of its impact on daily life, traffic congestion is the most serious consequence of tourism for valley residents. Five million tourists visit each year. This means an average of 14,000 people per day over the course of the year, but visitor traffic is seasonally skewed with the quietest period from November to April. During the peak tourism season, which occurs during the September-October grape harvest, or “crush,” as many as 40,000 to 60,000 people may be on Napa’s roads on the weekends. The valley’s major thoroughfare, Highway 29, which narrows above Yountville had reached its “practical capacity” in 1973 when the tourist boom was still in its infancy. When cars, limos, and agricultural vehicles idle or drive at less efficient speeds, fuel is wasted and pollutants are spewed into the air. Traffic also creates noise and forces drivers — workers, tourists, and locals alike — to spend more money on fuel.
Weekday traffic, especially during rush hours, is caused less by tourists than by commuting workers, this itself is related to tourism. One up-valley resident characterized the traffic problem in a letter to the St. Helena Star newspaper this way: “It is a witch’s brew composed of too much available alcohol, farming vehicles and tractors, rubbernecking tourists, a wine industry needing to ship or receive a commodity product on 18 wheelers, bicyclists, and landscape panoramas that draw the eye away from the roadway.” The same writer decried that “the pastoral beauty of the valley we work so hard to preserve is being destroyed by the traffic and the millions of cars ….” While overstated, the letter expresses the sentiments of many. Many locals now avoid Highway 29 when it is most congested, which often means staying home or taking alternative but longer routes when they do go out. Agriculture relies on the road system to move workers and products from vineyard to winery and from winery to market, and is also impacted by the congestion. Roads clogged with visitors and commuting works slow down agricultural operations.