Temporary road construction lane closures allowed during the early pandemic phase will cease on Aug. 9 to keep roads open for morning commutes.
AUSTIN, Texas – After a significant drop-off in traffic volume in spring 2020 after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more vehicles are returning to Austin’s streets. The most recent data from the Austin Transportation Department (ATD) shows traffic volume in July ranged from 1.5 million-1.7 million average weekday trips, or approximately 87% to 92% of pre-pandemic levels. By contrast, in late March 2020, traffic volumes fell to as low as 870,000 average weekday trips, less than half of what they were before the pandemic.
Those increasing traffic counts are likely to continue their upward trend in late August when many students will be returning to the classroom for the first time since March 2020. Austin ISD students start their school year Aug. 17, and the University of Texas begins classes Aug. 25. ATD data from 2019 shows an average increase in weekday morning peak period travel times of about 12% when schools reopened after the summer break.
To prepare for the return of back-to-school commutes, the Austin Transportation Department re-established its open roads program Aug. 9 for the mornings daily between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. The open roads program restricts temporary lane closures due to construction work during certain periods of the day in order to help increase mobility. When traffic volumes dropped in early 2020, ATD lifted those restrictions. After afternoon traffic levels began to rise, daily lane closure restrictions from 4 – 6 p.m. were reinstated May 17, 2021.
"Removing the peak period lane restrictions helped accelerate construction activity and spur economic growth to expedite the delivery of major construction projects that need access to the roadways. Now, with schools back in session, it is time to rebalance our priorities to ensure we are maximizing mobility options for our residents," said Assistant City Manager Gina Fiandaca, who oversees Mobility.
While overall traffic is approaching its previous levels, ATD data shows that increase is not spread out evenly throughout the day. From July 9-23, average weekday afternoon peak period traffic was down 7-10% from before the pandemic and mid-day traffic had dropped 5-8%. Morning peak period traffic, meanwhile, was still down 24-33%.
Average travel times tell a different story, indicating that even with traffic volumes nearing their pre-pandemic levels, driving patterns have changed. From July 9-23, both morning and afternoon peak-period travel times were down 23-25% from pre-pandemic levels, while mid-day trips were 11% shorter than they were before the pandemic. Lane closures will be allowed on Austin’s critical arterials outside of the open road hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., an increase from before the pandemic, when they were allowed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This will balance mobility with project delivery—ATD has approved about 4,200 permits active daily for construction in the right-of-way.
With COVID-19 infection rates and case counts rising throughout the state amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, AISD has announced it will offer a virtual option for some students in grades K-6. For more information on the district’s plan to keep students, teachers and staff safe as the school year begins, visit www.austinisd.org.