Metro Atlanta’s commute bad, but not worst as traffic returns from pandemic, survey shows

ATLANTA — A new survey release by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute says traffic tie-ups are quickly returning to levels not seen since the pandemic began in 2020.

The institute said traffic in 2020 reduced highway congestion to levels not seen in 40 years but added traffic is bouncing back. Quickly.

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The institute produces an annual mobility report which figures out formulas for “cost of congestion” and “travel time index.” They compile the information from 101 urban areas, all with more than 500,000 people.

For those of us living in metro Atlanta, we might assume our traffic is as bad, if not worse than everyone else’s. Particularly if you’ve been stuck behind a rush hour crash.

The report says metro Atlanta’s traffic is certainly bad, but there are cities with much bigger problems.

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The institute’s report says Atlanta ranks 9th in total congestion delay for 2020. They say the average commuter is delayed 37 hours a year which ranks 12th out of the 101 areas surveyed.

The “travel-time index” ranked metro Atlanta 49th.

The average cost per commuter for all of this “congestion cost” is approximately $869 or 8th overall.

The top two cities for traffic congestion in 2020? Number one: New York City, Number two: Los Angeles.

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The institute’s survey showed in the spring of 2020, daily commuter traffic nationwide dropped to nearly half of what it was in 2019. It showed that any traffic issues that did crop up were spread out over more hours of the day instead of being primarily rush hour problems.

The research also showed a lot of the tracked delays shifted towards the weekend due to reduced weekday, rush-hour commutes.

The survey said 2020 broke down as four different, distinct traffic years all rolled into one:

  • January and February, when things looked a lot like the year before.
  • March through May, when the shutdown produced roadway scenes not seen since George H.W. Bush was president and postage stamps cost a quarter.
  • June through August, when the rush hours began to reappear, reminding us of what traffic was like at about the turn of the century.
  • By September, delay conditions were creeping back toward normal (even if most everything else wasn’t), reminiscent of conditions in 2005.

The report’s authors said while commuter traffic dropped, truck traffic barely changes. Some of that was attributed to the increase of at-home delivery items.

“The pandemic really impacted supply chains,” report co-author Bill Eisele says. “But through it all, truckers kept on delivering the goods in our time of need.” Suppliers accomplished that in part by shifting to more nighttime and early morning deliveries.

They also cited the rise in working from home as a big factor in the change in traffic and congestion.

“Flexible work hours and reliable internet connections allow employees to choose work schedules that are beneficial for meeting family needs and the needs of their jobs,” said report co-author David Schrank. “And it also reduces the demand for roadway space, which is beneficial for the rest of us.”