Austin back to 80% of pre-pandemic traffic rush as more businesses, schools open

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Drivers may have noticed traffic is starting to pick up, and that’s because it is.

Austin traffic is back to 80% of what it was in mid-February before the pandemic, and city transportation officials said the latest uptick comes as more schools and businesses reopen. 

“Things are changing day-to-day, week-to-week, so we keep an eye on corridors throughout the city to make sure that we’re keeping things nice and safe and efficient as possible,” said Jen Duthie, a managing engineer with Austin’s Transportation Department.

Traffic volume is down 20% overall, but rush hour is well below normal. The morning rush is still down 36%, and the evening commute is down 22%. With the traffic volume down, travel times as drivers would expect are faster, too — down 10-15% during rush hour.

This snapshots compares weekly traffic volumes month by month. Source: Austin Transportation Department

“It’s been fairly steady, and like I said there’s a recent uptick with some re-openings in schools, especially outside of the core of the Austin area but fairly steady, lower volume and travel times than any of us have experienced in recent years for commuting times,” Duthie said.

Because of COVID-19’s impact, transportation officials say right now they’re running alternative signal timing plans at over 80% of the city’s signals.

Moving most of them toward more of what we call an “off-peak plan” where we see traffic conditions that are more typical of weekend traffic as opposed to weekday because we’re not seeing the normal morning and afternoon peaking behaviors in most cases,” she explained.

Duthie said as traffic continues to increase, they’ll continue to make adjustments as needed. Drivers can expect to see more traffic on the roads once Austin Independent School District reopens on Oct. 5 but Duthie said she does not know when we can expect to see 100% of the traffic we were experiencing before the pandemic.

“I do not have a crystal ball but we’re just keeping a close eye on it and monitoring it,” she said.

These numbers represent averages of what the city calls its 33 critical arterials, which include Ranch to Market Road 2222, Loop 360, Parmer Lane and Lamar Blvd.

Transportation officials said they’re starting to see traffic pick up along the outskirts of the city and on the highways like Interstate 35, U.S. Highway 183 and MoPac Expressway.

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