CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — People aren’t staying home like they did in the early weeks of the pandemic, but Oregon traffic officials say the number of vehicles on the road is still significantly down from last year and they don’t expect that to change anytime soon, especially if the state tightens restrictions following a surge in coronavirus cases.
The biggest drops came after Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued Executive Order 20-12 on March 23, forcing more businesses to close their doors and directing everyone to stay home to the maximum extent possible. At one point, I-5 traffic was down a staggering 44% from the same time in 2019, according to data from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
Traffic volumes crept back up, slowly but surely, leveling off in the summer, with a brief drop off again during September’s wildfires, according to ODOT.
Rural traffic corridors bounced back faster than urban areas, mostly because of differing needs in more spread out portions of the state.
“They rely a lot more on their cars to get to where they’re going,” ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton said. “They don’t have the options that they do in Portland or in the city of mass transit.”
By the end of October, most traffic corridors were within 5% of 2019 levels, with I-5, I-205 and US-395 the exceptions and closer to 10% lower than last year.
“People still have to get their work done, get their chores done, and that’s what we’re seeing,” Hamilton told KOIN 6 News. “It’s still below the levels from a year ago.”
He added ODOT expects metro-area traffic to stay about 10% below pre-pandemic levels “for a while still.”
The number of COVID-19 cases has been skyrocketing during the past couple of weeks, though. Governor Brown announced a two-week “pause” on social activities for Multnomah, Marion, Malheur, Jackson, and Umatilla counties starting Wednesday, Nov. 11. On Monday, the governor added Clackamas, Washington and several other counties to that list.
Hamilton says we’ll likely see some decrease in traffic when the pause starts, but the exact extent is impossible to guess.
“It’s not like we have a playbook for this,” he said. “Our track record just goes back to last March.”
The holidays are also on the horizon, and Hamilton expects we could see more people hitting the road (though not as many as years past), despite the fact that government officials are urging people not to gather in person this year.
“This has been hard for everybody,” Hamilton said. “I hope we get out of it one day soon. The most important thing that we can try to do is keep people as safe as we can.”