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Traffic During the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 changed the world in 2020 – people lost jobs, found new jobs, had their jobs transition to working from home part- or full-time, and were forced to quarantine as much as possible. Ever since March 2020, traffic has fluctuated unlike many people have seen in their lifetime. Starting in the fall, traffic has historically declined, but in fall 2020 it declined significantly as COVID cases and deaths increased to at the time record numbers. But there was hope on the horizon as the COVID vaccines were approved and released for consumption and proved to be effective, cases and deaths declined rapidly, and traffic increased to near pre-pandemic levels in spring 2021. The data for this project was extracted from seven (7) locations on MassDOT’s MS2 Transportation Data Management System website. 2019 is used as the baseline year as it was unaffected by COVID-19 and where 2019 data was not present, it was calculated from previous years utilizing the provided annual growth rates on the MS2 website. The chart below displays how traffic was affected in 2021 and displays the re-opening phases, recalls/lifted restrictions, and any other events that affected traffic.

Map of All Traffic Count Locations - 2019 vs. 2021

After the significant traffic levels observed on Easter and Memorial Day in 2021, there was speculation that traffic would return to pre-pandemic levels. While individual locations did yield traffic levels higher than the baseline (2019), overall traffic at all the locations came up just short. The Average Daily Traffic (ADT) in June 2021 was just 0.6% below the ADT in June 2019, which can be attributed to normal summer traffic patterns in the region, but also the high COVID vaccination rates. For the remainder of the year, the traffic did not differ from the baseline more than 5% less than 2019, as can be observed on the chart below.

Graph comparing traffic in 2019 to 2021

In 2020, traffic on both Thanksgiving and Christmas were drastically less than what is normally observed. However, between the COVID vaccines, all COVID restrictions lifted, and the retraction of the State of Emergency, those holidays in 2021 had far higher traffic volumes. Overall, traffic at these locations was 56.6% higher on Thanksgiving and 38.8% higher on Christmas. You can see the difference at each location on the charts below.

Graph comparing traffic during Thanksgiving holiday, 2020 vs. 2021 Graph comparing traffic during Christmas holiday, 2020 vs. 2021

In January 2022, traffic another sharp decline, which likely can be attributed partially to the spike in COVID cases due to the Omicron variant in addition to the usual winter decline. The ADT in January 2022 was the lowest all locations had yielded since February 2021. Traffic increased in February and has increased even more in March 2022, even with the March surge in gas prices. With COVID cases back down and municipalities that reinstated mask mandates having removed them, there is hope that traffic will return to pre-pandemic levels. Three of the seven locations have yielded at least one higher monthly ADT over 2019 so far in 2022 (one on Route 24 and the other two on Route 3). With uncertainty of future gas prices as well as COVID, it is uncertain how traffic will be in the coming months. This project will continue to be tracked for future updates.