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How busy will NH be this weekend? Your guess is as good as any

  • Traffic is starting to build up on I-93 North because of the upcoming holiday weekend (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff)

  • NH DOT

Concord Monitor
Published: 5/22/2020 9:27:53 PM
Modified: 5/22/2020 9:27:40 PM

Yet another New Hampshire tradition has been sidelined by COVID-19: holiday traffic predictions.

“It would be very difficult for the division to forecast holiday visitation/traffic for the Memorial Day Weekend, in the midst of a pandemic, with stay-at-home orders in place and so many sectors of the economy just beginning to start the process of reopening,” wrote Kris Neilsen, spokesperson for the states’s Division of Travel and Tourism, after the Concord Monitor asked how many people are likely to visit the state this weekend.

For years the state has predicted how many visitors we’ll see on a few holidays, starting with Memorial Day and extending through peak leaf-peeping on Columbus Day weekend. Last year, for example, they predicted 650,000 folks would flock to tourist destinations in the Granite State, and E-ZPass numbers indicated they were about right.

But since stay-at-home regulations came into effect in March, traffic has collapsed in the state. For months the weekly average for the number of E-ZPass tolls on New Hampshire turnpikes was consistently over 2 million, but it fell from 2.15 million for the week ending March 8 to just 933,000 a month later.

Since then traffic has edged back up, to 1.37 million last week. The question is whether Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of summer, will goose those figures.

“We aren’t speculating on numbers. However, I just drove from Concord to the Weirs (in Laconia) to watch NHDOT open a bridge and based on that experience I would say they will be up,” said Eileen Meaney, chief communications officer for the Department of Transportation.

The state has sort of opened ocean beaches — you can walk but not sunbathe and parking is very limited — and some tourist businesses can open if they involve small groups of people outdoors. That includes mini golf and paint-ball; driving and shooting ranges; rentals of bikes, canoes or kayaks; and outdoor guide services for fishing, hunting and hiking.

But large venues are still shuttered and indoor seating still isn’t allowed for restaurants, so there’s less reason for people to travel far, which is why nobody’s really sure what is going to happen.

Valley News

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