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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. What used to be family gatherings for holidays, birthdays, and other special events transitioned to Zoom calls and drive-by parades. Traffic significantly decreased throughout March, increased from April through early September with the re-opening phases, and has since been declined again due to recalling the re-opening phases with cases seeing dramatic increases. Because of the recalls, traffic on Thanksgiving and Christmas experienced levels of traffic not seen since the early days of quarantine. The data for this project was extracted from eight (8) locations on MassDOT’s MS2 Transportation Data Management System website. 2019 was 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 thus far in 2021 and displays the re-opening phases as well as recalls.

Map of All Traffic Count Locations - March to June

Traffic in the OCPC Region had a back-and-forth trend throughout the pandemic affected months in 2020, with traffic declining at increased rates in November and December. After the New Year began, cases continued to increase, and traffic continued to decrease (January 2021 had 9,762 fewer average daily vehicles at the eight (8) locations compared to December 2020). However, once the spike from New Year’s traveling passed, cases began to decrease and traffic increased; February 2021 had almost identical overall figures as December 2020. With the progression of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, came the reinstatement of Reopening Phase 3-2 (which was issued only for low-risk communities back on October 5, 2020) for the entire Commonwealth on March 1, 2021 followed by Phase 4-1 on March 22nd. Across all eight locations, traffic increased by 81,168 vehicles in March over February; an increase nobody could have foreseen!

Graph comparing traffic in March 2019 to March 2020 Bar chart comparing traffic before and after March 13 in 2019 and 2020

Traffic continued its increase into April, increasing by 31,095 vehicles across the eight locations, with the monthly Average Daily Traffic reaching its highest since September 2020. Given that traffic across these locations was down 60.1% on Easter 2020, it was curious how the traffic compared to Easter 2021… the results are incredible!

On Easter 2020, only one location had above 50,000 vehicles (Route 3, north of Route 18 in Weymouth) and the location with the lowest traffic was Route 3, north of the Bourne Town Line in Plymouth with 16,106 vehicles. Easter 2021 however, was a completely different story. Only two locations had less than 50,000 vehicles and two locations had over 100,000 vehicles! Every location experienced over a 100% increase in traffic with the location on Interstate 495, south of Route 24 in Raynham experiencing a 151.3% increase over Easter 2020. Overall, traffic on Easter 2021 across the eight locations had increased 127% over traffic observed on Easter 2020.

Map of All Traffic Count Locations - Yearly

Memorial Day also experienced a substantial increase, just not as extreme as on Easter. The overall increase was 33.3%, with the lowest increase at 12.1% and highest at 40.8%. Traffic through from April to May increased about the same amount as 2019 in terms of total increase, with traffic increasing at a greater rate so far in June.

Map of All Traffic Count Locations - Monthly

In late April, Governor Baker announced the schedule for the remainder of the State’s Reopening Plan through to August, if Massachusetts does not have another spike in cases. The timeline was moved up due to the positive data, with all COVID-19 restrictions being lifted on May 29th and the State of Emergency will be lifted on June 15th. It is anticipated that as more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and as more businesses reopen, that more vehicles will be out on the road. However, with the MBTA returning its service to pre-pandemic levels, people may utilize public transportation as well. This will be tracked for future updates.