Parts of Albuquerque still seeing low traffic during pandemic, nearly a year later

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – We’re getting a first look at the impact COVID-19 is having on metro traffic throughout 2020 and when we can expect roads to return to “normal.” Transportation planners say one surprising find from this fall’s study is, while traffic increased in some areas, it’s down from this summer. It’s also dramatically low in areas that are normally packed with cars, as people continue to work from home.

“We’re seeing connections between the levels of traffic and the type of local land use, whether it’s residential areas, shopping areas, employment areas,” said Nathan Masek, Senior Transportation Planner for the Mid Region Council of Governments. “What really jumped out in the data was pretty significant reductions in areas of employment such as downtown, the Journal Center, the southeast where we have the national labs, the airport, as well as a lot of commercial activity. There’s a lot of variation and it’s really becoming clear that it’s tied to activity, as well as employment.”

The areas close to their pre-pandemic traffic are south of Albuquerque near Valencia County and the westside, though transportation officials are still trying to find out why that is. Masek says traffic studies like this go beyond just road work needs and give insight to further infrastructure that’s needed, like better internet connections.

“By associating these areas of large traffic reductions and ascertaining the levels of employment or activity, we can look at roadway operations and what types of improvements are needed,” said Masek. “It could be things like fiber connections and telecommunications that can support work from home.”

Another big change they’ve seen is the study is the difference in the metro’s traditional “rush hour” peaks. They say the morning peak is much lower than normal since that’s usually made up of people heading to work, while midday and evening hasn’t seen a big change since that’s a combination of work, shopping and errands. “We don’t know how long this is going to maintain itself,” said Masek. “We’ll just have to see in the coming year.”

Those behind the study say, while traffic is starting to return, it’s still not quite at the levels we saw in 2019, so they hope to find out in the coming months if our roadways will be what the call, a “new normal.” The Mid Region Council of Governments plans to resume their normal traffic studies in 2021, but will also still monitor the 156 COVID traffic locations from this study.

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