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Columbus Traffic Expected To Rise Again As Stay-At-Home Order Lifts

A sign telling drivers to stay home, on SR-315 in Columbus.
Ryan Hitchcock
A sign telling drivers to stay home, on SR-315 in Columbus.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is preparing for traffic to increase once again now that Ohio's stay-at-home order is lifting.

MORPC looked at 31 different locations throughout Central Ohio where ODOT keeps traffic counters. The coronavirus pandemic decreased drivers at all of them.

"During the first week or so of April, traffic was off about 45% at those locations on average than it was the very first week of March," says Nick Gill, assistant director of transportation and infrastructure development.

Ohio as a whole saw similar trends. The Ohio Department of Transportation maintains 185 "continuous count stations" monitoring, at 15-minute intervals, how many and what kinds of vehicles on the road.

"We have seen traffic volumes steadily drop from about mid-March all the way through the first part of April," spokesman Matt Bruning told WVXU. "We bottomed out at about 49% in April. We've started to see it steadily climb back up: last week we were down 35%, compared to the same period last year."

Gill says traffic levels are expected to rise again as businesses reopen.

“I expect as more people get out and more places open that it will pick back up," he says. "Will it be all the way to that normal weekday average anytime soon? Doubt it. But it will trend back up."

Gill says he’s particularly interested in how this time will affect long-term traffic trends. He says people losing their jobs and businesses closing were two factors in the depressed traffic.

But employees working from home also contributed to the decrease, and both Gill and Bruning think some may never routinely go back to the office again.

"We don't yet know how many companies might have seen how teleworking works during this time period and deciding that's something they're going to do going forward. That could lessen the amount of traffic on our roads," Bruning said.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.