ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – With the lifting of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions, Albuquerque drivers returned to the roads, new data from the Mid-Region Council of Governments shows. But some intersections have more traffic than before the pandemic, while others have less traffic. So, what’s behind this?

The Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) keeps tabs on traffic around Albuquerque. Each year, they map out the busiest roads and intersections across the city, and their newly released “2021 Traffic Flow Maps” show some interesting changes.

“Thirteen of the top 25 busiest intersections in the metro area have exceeded pre-COVID daily volumes,” Nathan P. Masek, the senior Transportation Planner for MRCOG said in a press release. “Some as much as 20%.”

In 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic really hit Albuquerque, the Coors and Montaño intersection was the busiest in the metro area, according to MRCOG traffic counts. That intersection had an average of 70,163 vehicles each weekday in 2019.

But in 2021, that intersection was no longer the busiest. By 2021, Coors and Montaño saw an average of under 69,000 vehicles per weekday. And a different intersection took the top spot.

In 2021, Coors and Irving became the busiest intersection. An average of 75,421 vehicles approached that spot each weekday. That’s an increase from pre-pandemic levels.

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Several spots around the city saw increases in traffic compared to pre-pandemic levels. Image from MRCOG.

Several other intersections also saw increases when compared to pre-pandemic levels. That includes Ellison and Coors Bypass, San Mateo and Montgomery, Paseo Del Norte and Wyoming, Paseo Del Norte and San Pedro, and 10 other intersections throughout the city.

Five of the 14 intersections that saw increased traffic after the pandemic are located on Paseo Del Norte. Masek says this is likely because there are many retail, restaurant, and commercial operations along Paseo Del Norte.

“These intersections, I would say typically represent non-residential areas, be it jobs or retail activity,” Masek says. And this suggests a post-pandemic “return to normal,” Masek adds.

But MRCOG data also shows that one aspect of Albuquerque’s commute hasn’t quite returned to normal. Morning traffic counts in some areas are still relatively low. And might be because the pandemic has changed how people work, Masek says.

“With some exceptions, you’ll note that the AM [traffic] is still behind,” Masek says, “That’s been observable with the increase in flexible work hours or work from home or Zoom meetings.”

So it appears that the pandemic has changed the city’s traffic patterns to some extent. But the big picture, according to Masek, is that traffic counts suggest the city is recovering from a pandemic slump. And of course a return to the roads means we could start seeing more crashes and congestion.

“You’ll see that at I-40 West, in particular, crossing the river,” Masek says. There’s been a construction project, but boy, the backups have been horrible. I hate to see it.”

So why does it matter if traffic patterns change? Well, for one, knowing traffic patterns is a key part of keeping roads safe. For example, changing traffic patterns are at the heart of an ongoing debate on how to curb crashes on Lead and Coal Avenues.

And traffic counts help government agencies make decisions. Traffic study results “are extremely important to the region”, Dewey V. Cave, the executive director of MRCOG said in a press release. “This information is used by local agencies, the media, and many others to make informed decisions based on actual local traffic data collected under our program.”