People: There are more drivers on the road. ODOT: Not so much

Special Reports

Some drivers say they've been noticing an increase in traffic, but ODOT numbers aren't so dramatic

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — As Oregon’s stay at home order enters its sixth week, there has been online and word-of-mouth speculation that people are starting to drive around more. But is there any truth to the rumors? Oregon Department of Transportation data shows mixed results.

As KOIN 6 News reported earlier this month, traffic began to decline around the time school closures and crowd size limits were announced. However, the biggest drops came after Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued Executive Order 20-12 on March 23, directing everyone to stay home to the maximum extent possible. That’s when we started to see year-to-year traffic decreases in the 30-50% range.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

According to the latest ODOT data, comparing 2019 and 2020 daily traffic through April 22, those percentage decreases have remained fairly steady on Portland-area freeways.

However, ODOT has also started doing week-to-week comparisons too, which are showing slight increases in traffic.

“Because this is an unprecedented event, it is also of interest to see the data outside of seasonal trend and thus the changes from prior week is provided to show how traffic changes compared to the low point of traffic when the “stay home” order was first enacted,” ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton wrote in an email.

I-5 is one of the freeways that has seen slight increases in traffic levels over the last couple of weeks (ODOT)

I-5 had one of the larger week-to-week changes. Northbound traffic volume at the Interstate Bridge increased 7.1% the week of April 17. The overall traffic level was still 32% lower than the same time last year.

OR-217 between Tigard and Beaverton also saw 7.2% more traffic.

OR-217 also saw a week-to-week traffic increase in mid-April (ODOT)

Almost all the freeways saw slight week-to-week increases during the first two full weeks of April, but it’s not necessarily significant for short-term tracking purposes. According to Hamilton, they often see that range of swing from day-to-day and week-to-week. It could be influenced by all sorts of factors like construction zone avoidance, a change in freight/delivery truck schedules, or even just people making grocery trips they’ve been putting off.

So ODOT can’t speculate about what’s driving more people to, well, drive. However, Hamilton said traffic does trend upward as it gets nicer outside.

“With warmer weather, people are doing more,” he wrote. “Traditionally this time of year is the jumpstart for gardening and home improvement projects as well as preparation for moving and home sale.”

The Burnside Bridge as seen April 20, 2020 Bill Cortez)

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