Traffic volumes, though, aren’t changing much.
The number of vehicles on Oregon’s highways plunged in the early days of the pandemic, falling by more than 40% in late March as the state’s economy shut down to halt spread of the coronavirus.
On average, there were 143,000 fewer cars and trucks on the highways the last week of March compared to the same week in 2019.
Drivers steadily returned to the roads in April and the first week of May, but the highways haven’t gotten much busier in the subsequent weeks. June traffic is down about 20% from the same month a year ago.
“It looks like overall traffic volumes have plateaued statewide for now. The most likely reason for this is the county phasing for COVID reopening,” said Becky Knudson, senior economist at the Oregon Department of Transportation.
“There is not a lot more we can say about ‘why’ without knowing exactly what types of trips are occurring and not occurring,” Knudson wrote in an email. The department’s data cannot distinguish between work-related travel, recreation, household errands or commercial travel.
“The one exception is heavy trucks,” she said. “Their volumes have maintained typical levels so far.” Heavy trucks stayed on the roads, hauling all kinds of products and supplies, through the heart of the pandemic. And truck volume in the middle of June was slightly higher than in March.
Traffic is one key benchmark since transportation is such a big part of Oregon’s economy, but it doesn’t tell the full story. It does suggest that at nearly 100 days since the governor’s stay-home order, Oregon’s recovery has a long way to go. And right now, at least, the state isn’t getting there in a hurry.