Virginia road traffic is returning to normal, VDOT says

Traffic moves across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge along the Capital Beltway during rush hour one day before the 4th of July holiday July 3, 2018, between Virginia and Maryland. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Traffic is back.

Car and truck volume trends in Virginia are moving back toward normal after plummeting during the COVID-19 shutdown, according to numbers released Friday by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Pandemic traffic on state-maintained interstates and primary roads hit a low on April 12, a Sunday when volumes for all vehicles were 64 percent below where they were at the same time last year.

The numbers have gradually rebounded since, climbing back to around 20 percent below normal by the end of May.

“If the trends continue, we’ll be at typical volumes fairly soon,” VDOT traffic engineer Mena Lockwood told the Commonwealth Transportation Board this week.

Virginia traffic volumes show road activity is returning to normal, VDOT says
A VDOT chart shows traffic volume trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Graphic courtesy of VDOT)

Because gas taxes help pay for roads, traffic volumes — measured by sensors on VDOT-maintained roads —  are an important metric for state transportation officials.

“It affects a lot of our decisions but it also affects our financial stability,” said Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine.

Fewer cars has meant fewer crashes but also an uptick in speeding and speed-related deaths.

“Fewer vehicles on the road during the COVID-19 crisis have contributed to a 45 percent decrease in all crashes,” Valentine said in a news release. “But it is of great concern to see that the number of fatalities involving both speed and unrestrained travelers has increased by 78 percent during this time period compared to 2019. We are urging all motorists to drive the posted speed limit and wear seat belts.”