Congestion returns: Officials say traffic is steadily increasing as reopening continues

Businesses are slowly starting to reopen, meaning more people are heading back to work, traveling across Minnesota’s major roads and highways.

So, if you’ve enjoyed driving around with virtually no traffic jams, it looks like those days are coming to an end.

“The last couple of months we haven’t see much for congestion, but in just the last week or two, we’re seeing those typical hot spots like on [Highway] 62, I-494, 35W, 94 near downtown starting to return and become congested again,” said Brian Kary, Director of Traffic Management for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.  

Across the state, traffic volume has returned to normal. A MnDOT analysis shows as of July 1, traffic volume is off only .4% from its historic average.

In the metro, it is still down by almost 22%. But, the trend lines show that from the peak of the lockdown in mid-March through April, drivers are hitting the road again.

“It’s probably some of the shorter trips people are taking right now - restaurants, grocery stores, maybe some local businesses and friends and family - but I think a lot of those work trips and those cross-metro ones for some of the folks that are teleworking, those trips sill have not come back yet.” 

Meanwhile, Metro Transit ridership through the month of May was down by 1.6 million rides. And though the trend lines for buses are slowing rising, ridership is still off by 50%. Light rail ridership is off by 86%.

It shows how work, shop, and travel is still evolving, and even when the pandemic is over, no one is really sure how workers and businesses will adjust.

MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council look ahead 20 years in making their transportation plans, especially along major corridors. Kary said this disruption makes it very challenging to predict what the capacity needs will be because we don’t know what the work needs will be.