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'It's going to be worse:' Pre-pandemic traffic in DC area is making a return

Traffic in D.C. area (7News)
Traffic in D.C. area (7News)
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D.C.’s mayor is bringing telecommuting city workers back to the office Monday, and it’s part of a bigger trend – more and more people are commuting again, and that’s part of the reason drivers have noticed traffic getting back to pre-pandemic levels.

In fact, new numbers provided to 7News by the Virginia Dept. of Transportation (VDOT) show in some cases traffic is actually worse than it was pre-pandemic.

Those numbers show how much traffic has returned to the roads depends on where you are. For example, weekday traffic in Arlington County in June 2021 was still down 26% versus June 2019. But that was an outlier – in Fairfax County traffic was only down 12%, Loudoun County just 8%, and Prince William County was basically back to normal, falling just 3% versus June 2019.

And weekend numbers are even more striking – traffic in June was actually up 2% in both Prince William and Loudoun Counties versus two years ago.

“Though it dropped precipitously [earlier in the pandemic], that’s the past,” said John Townsend II, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “People thought the traffic would change forever. It didn’t. It’s going back to what it was before. This is back to the future literally.”

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Both VDOT and AAA Mid-Atlantic say morning rush hour is still better than pre-pandemic. But afternoon rush hour has returned to its old self.

“If you leave any later than three, you’re going to run into the same kind of traffic levels and gridlock and congestion you saw before the pandemic,” Townsend said.

Townsend says afternoon rush hours are bad because three sets of people all converge on the road at once – traditional commuters who still drive to and from work each weekday, telecommuters who leave to do errands and other things, and drivers – many of them taking vacations this summer – just trying to get through the D.C. area.

Townsend warns things will only get worse as more people begin commuting again.

“This is only a precursor of things to come,” he said. “As bad as it is now, buckle up, it’s going to be worse after Labor Day.”
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Townsend says if you can choose when to be on the road, mid-morning and after 7 p.m. are times you can avoid some of the worst traffic.

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