Pandemic reflected in 2020 traffic plunge - Albuquerque Journal

Pandemic reflected in 2020 traffic plunge

Motorists move Tuesday through the Coors Bypass and Ellison NW, one of the busiest intersections in the region. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The average Albuquerque-area resident drove less last year than any time in over a quarter-century, according to recently released traffic monitoring data.

The region’s 20.46 daily VMT (vehicle miles of travel) per capita in 2020 was 22.7% lower than the year before and the least since 1993 – unsurprising given the shutdowns and behavior changes wrought by the pandemic.

But a planner who monitors the trends says recent counts suggest the eventual 2021 report will show the area has returned to pre-pandemic conditions.

“Some areas are still pretty low,” said Mid-Region Council of Governments senior transportation planner Nathan Masek.”But I would say overall we’re starting to see the traffic return to where it was.”

In 2020, there were an average of 18.3 million miles of daily vehicle travel in the region, the MRCOG report shows. The region includes Albuquerque as well as Rio Rancho, Los Lunas and Belen.

Traffic dropoffs early in the pandemic were particularly precipitous in Albuquerque’s Downtown area, the Journal Center office park and the far Northeast Heights, according to MRCOG’s tracking at about 150 specific locations. Volume in those areas in March through May 2020 was barely half of what it had been a year prior.

“Employment areas, activity areas, shopping areas were the most intensely affected – obviously jobs were either lost or people were working from home and people were not shopping (at all) or were shopping online and not driving to the mall,” Masek said.

By early 2021, Downtown was still only at 60% of its previous activity, though Journal Center had rebounded to 73.6% and the far Heights was up to 87.8%.

Other parts of the region that experienced lesser early pandemic declines – Valencia County, the Northwest Mesa and far North Valley – had fully returned, or come close to, 2019 levels by earlier this year.

The 2020 reports show the region’s busiest intersections are still mostly concentrated on Albuquerque’s West Side and the Northeast Heights, but even most of the top 10 saw 15-20% lower volume than 2019. The exception was the Paseo del Norte and Coors interchange, where traffic rose 1.5% year-over-year.


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