Austin traffic remains below pre-pandemic levels after school starts

The Austin Transportation Department said that a recent surge in COVID-19 cases and people continuing to work from home play a role in traffic's slow return. (Courtesy Fotolia)
The Austin Transportation Department said that a recent surge in COVID-19 cases and people continuing to work from home play a role in traffic's slow return. (Courtesy Fotolia)

The Austin Transportation Department said that a recent surge in COVID-19 cases and people continuing to work from home play a role in traffic's slow return. (Courtesy Fotolia)

The Austin Transportation Department prepared for traffic to increase as schools in the Austin area welcomed students back to in-person learning, but that surge never materialized.

“In the early summer, we were starting to see an increase of a few percent a month, volumes coming back,” said Jen Duthie, managing engineer of the transportation department’s arterial management division. “We were thinking by the fall, we would be back to typical traffic conditions.”

That’s because when classes return to session, Austin morning traffic typically sees a 10% increase, Duthie added.

However, as the summer progressed, that increase began to slow. Austin Transportation Department data from August shows that, despite a minor increase, traffic peaks have not fully returned.

During the week of Aug. 22, overall traffic volume was still down 11% and the morning peak down 20% compared to the week of Feb. 2, 2020, the transportation department’s pre-pandemic baseline.


Duthie oversees a team that adjusts traffic signals in real time, in addition to a team that plans for periods of traffic change, which includes the beginning of the school year.

Some of the largest schooling entities in Austin began classes in mid to late August, including Austin ISD on Aug. 17, Austin Community College on Aug. 23 and the University of Texas on Aug. 25.

Duthie said the lack of traffic peaks could be a result of COVID-19 cases surging due to the delta variant or simply more people working from home than prior to the pandemic.

Additionally, AISD shifted to allow for students too young to receive a vaccine–those in kindergarten through sixth grade—to attend classes virtually. According to AISD, 3,476 students decided to attend virtually this fall, representing 4.6% of AISD’s student body.

Duthie also said that traffic patterns in general have flattened since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Typical conditions pre-pandemic were we would see a morning peak in traffic and an afternoon or evening peak in traffic,” Duthie said. “Since the pandemic, even as traffic comes back, it's been a lot more flat of a curve, like not as much peaking and more spread out.”
By Benton Graham

Metro Reporter, Austin

Benton joined Community Impact Newspaper as a metro reporter covering transportation in Central Texas in June 2021. Benton's writing has appeared in Vox, The Austin Chronicle, Austonia and Reporting Texas. Originally from Minneapolis, Benton graduated from William & Mary and eventually moved to Austin in 2018.

By Trent Thompson

Reporter, Austin Metro

Trent joined Community Impact Newspaper as an intern in May 2021 after graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Texas, Austin in December 2020. In July 2021, he was promoted to Austin Metro reporter. He covers several news beats from education and government to dining, transportation, nonprofits, and healthcare. However, his primary beat is business and development. Before working at CI, Trent wrote for The Daily Texan, UT's daily student newspaper, and worked on many projects of his own for his undergraduate program. In his free time Trent writes poetry, spends time with loved ones, and watches Star Wars for the hundredth time, including other new movies.



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