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Yes, you can believe your eyes: State data suggest that traffic is rising toward pre-pandemic levels

Morning traffic in the northbound lanes of interstate 93 in Boston on July 14.
Morning traffic in the northbound lanes of interstate 93 in Boston on July 14.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

An unearthly quiet fell on the state’s highways and byways during the height of the coronavirus surge in Massachusetts. The only thing missing was the tumbleweeds.

Now things are heading back to normal, according to traffic data from the state.

In the spring, after nonessential businesses were closed and people were advised to stay home, traffic statewide dropped by about 60 percent compared with the same period in 2019, according to a report released earlier this week by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

The state is now in Phase 3 of a gradual reopening plan. And for the week of Monday, July 20, to Sunday, July 26, traffic volumes were down only about 12 percent to 20 percent, the agency said.


“MassDOT is collecting traffic volumes in 2020 to monitor the effects of the COVID-19 response and the return of traffic,” the report said. “MassDOT’s traffic volumes data is collected from a large sampling of continuous count stations located across the entire State on limited access highways and some non-limited access highways.”

A chart contained in the report showed a precipitous decline after Governor Charlie Baker in March ordered nonessential businesses closed and the Department of Public Health advised people to stay at home.

MassDOT also said there were regional variations in how crowded the roads are getting. For example, data from electronic tolling gantries in Eastern Massachusetts indicates that traffic continues to be generally depressed.

The agency said that on some Fridays, gantries in Western Massachusetts were seeing transaction rates that were extremely close to 2019 levels, including the Lee tolling station where traffic on July 17 exceeded the traffic for the year before.

Apple mobility driving trend data for the state, which is based on requests for driving directions, also suggests traffic is rebounding, even going higher than normal.


Public transit is not rebounding as much as vehicle traffic, the agency said.

MBTA nonmonthly pass revenue on buses, subways, and commuter rail is currently down 78 percent from 2019 levels, according to the agency.

Data gathered from fare gates at T stations similarly showed an 80 percent decline, the agency said. Ridership has been on the rise since April, but has not matched the comeback seen in vehicle travel, the agency said.

Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.