There is less traffic moving around the St. Louis metro region since Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page ordered people in their respective constituencies to stay at home in mid-March.
In the three weeks that followed those orders, nearly half of the traffic the region normally sees day to day has disappeared, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.
“As this has evolved, we can really see in the St. Louis-area passenger traffic is now down about a little over 40%,” said Eric Schroeter, MoDOT’s assistant chief engineer. “This is very noticeable. It's not just a little blip.”
Data provided to St. Louis Public Radio from INRIX, a traffic analytics firm, shows road usage across the St. Louis metropolitan region started to fall before stay-at-home orders were issued on March 20 and March 21.
Missouri as a whole is seeing similar traffic reductions across the board, but there are some outliers where the drop is larger, he said.
“Columbia is down over 50%, 55%,” Schroeter said. “Of course, the university has gone to online classes only.”
The Illinois Department of Transportation is seeing similar metrics across the Mississippi River.
“We are seeing much lighter than normal traffic volumes due to the governor’s executive order to stay home,” said IDOT District 8 Construction Engineer Joel Cumby. “The peak traffic counts are down significantly.”
Interstates 55 and 64 at the Poplar Street Bridge handle 117,700 cars a day during the heaviest usage times, according to IDOT. I-70 at the Stan Musial Veteran’s Memorial Bridge handles 44,300 cars at peak times.
Cumby said the department did not have hard traffic count numbers for what’s happening in the Metro East during the coronavirus pandemic.
Truck traffic is also lower across the region, down around 20%, Schroeter said.
“Bars and restaurants aren’t having as many deliveries as they normally would,” he said. “So we’re seeing that local truck traffic reduces; whereas with the freight movement of essential goods, that’s still going on.”
The departments generally track traffic with percent changes rather than specific numbers of cars because some roads see much heavier usage, Schroeter said.
“At any one spot, the numbers can vary tremendously,” he said. “Some places in St. Louis on a normal day would have over 200,000 cars come by them, and others could just have several thousand.”
Road work and speeding
Fewer vehicles on the road has provided both IDOT and MoDOT opportunities to move up some road work projects.
“With less cars, it’s allowed us to open up the hours that our contractors are working,” Schroeter said. “We’re not impacting traffic as much.”
Both Cumby and Schroeter said construction workers were following social distancing guidelines and other precautions.
“We’re encouraging workers to change clothes before and after work immediately upon leaving or arriving home,” Cumby said. “We’re encouraging them to wash their clothes in hot water and laundry sanitizer.”
The reduced traffic loads have also led to some problems, Schroeter said.
“We’ve seen speed go up,” he said. “While there may be reduced traffic out there, that gives people this false sense of [security].”
MoDOT reports one section of I-70 saw double the number of people traveling faster than 80 miles per hour compared to last year. Schroeter asks drivers to be careful on the roads, especially when the stay at home orders lift.
“There will be a pent-up demand for getting out,” he said. “That’s when we really need people paying attention.”
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