Traffic Approaches Pre-Pandemic Levels in Hampton Roads
A year after COVID-19 cleared highways, traffic levels in Hampton Roads and other cities are once again close to pre-pandemic levels. That means frustrating backups again on the approaches to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, longer drives into work, more road rage, and more frequent traffic accidents.
In March, the Associated Press reported the number of daily passenger trips reached pre-COVID levels for the first time this year in many towns and cities. The transportation firm INRIX revealed Americans are driving more frequently and farther than at any time since pandemic lockdowns went into place in the spring of 2020.
That’s a big change from 2020 when an INRIX study found the pandemic transformed driver behavior. The report revealed drivers in New York saved about 100 hours waiting in traffic. Drivers in Philadelphia saved 94 hours, while motorists in Chicago saved 86 congestion hours.
Many vehicles ended up parked for an extended period last spring as governors and other officials issued stay-at-home orders. Virginia ordered schools to close and non-essential businesses were shuttered. Many people shifted their workplaces from the office to their homes, and as a result, their cars remained parked. Studies found passenger vehicle miles traveled fell to almost half their pre-pandemic levels nationally and even further in cities with greater restrictions, AP reported.
Now travel rates from passenger vehicles are rising significantly, especially in small metropolitan areas, and mid-sized Southern towns. Higher rates of travel are indicators of more tourism in cities such as Virginia Beach, as well as increased business growth, retail activity, and recreational activity.
Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, told AP the country is now starting to rebound from a travel standpoint. Passenger vehicle miles traveled climbed upwards in March. They reached 112% of their pre-pandemic levels over the week ending March 19, according to INRIX, which compiles up-to-date passenger vehicle traffic data from anonymous GPS signals, such as from apps on smartphones.
The surge in traffic levels seen in March 2021 is highest over weekends, suggesting some of the workers the pandemic drove to home offices are still teleworking.
Virginia noted traffic creeping back to pre-COVID levels in the fall of 2020. The Virginia Department of Transportation presented data on COVID-19’s impact on traffic patterns to the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board in September.
Mena Lockwood of VDOT’s engineering division told the board the marked drop in traffic levels started just after the March 12 state of emergency was issued by Governor Ralph Northam.
Virginia’s roads were at their emptiest in April. However, traffic reached 15 percent of 2019 levels by July 2020. Lockwood noted Lynchburg and Hampton Roads were among the areas closest to normal traffic last summer.
Although any return to normalcy is to be welcomed, more congested roads can result in an increase in accidents, injuries, and greater air pollution.
We noted recently how the tech company TomTom listed Hampton Roads as one of the 40 most congested cities in the United States. Hampton Roads was ranked as the 31st most congested city in the nation because it takes 18 percent longer on average to get to a destination in congested conditions here than in free-flow conditions. Stop-and-go traffic is associated with more wrecks, particularly rear-enders.
Although congested roads are linked to more accidents, data from 2020 suggests the pandemic did not make America’s roads safer. The National Safety Council reported 42,060 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% rise over 2019. About 4.8 million more people suffered serious injuries.
The preliminary estimated rate of death on the highways in 2020 spiked a massive 24% over the previous 12-month period, even though miles driven dropped by 13%. It was the highest year-on-year jump that NSC calculated since 1924. NSC urged President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to commit to zero roadway deaths by 2050.
Organizations such as NSC continue to examine the reasons for the spike in road deaths and serious injures. Pertinent factors include an increase in speeds on empty roads, greater alcohol and drug use associated with pandemic stress, and fewer drivers and passengers wearing seat belts.
If you or a family member suffered an injury due to the fault of another driver, please contact our Norfolk-based car accident lawyers as soon as possible for a free consultation.