Hampton Roads is driving less during COVID-19 pandemic. The environment is taking notice


HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — As Virginia’s stay-at-home order begins to lift, more people are starting to hit the roads again.

During the peak of our stay-at-home order, data from the Virginia Department of Transportation shows an unprecedented drop in traffic volumes and crashes in Hampton Roads.

VDOT has traffic counters along the interstates that produce data.

10 On Your Side’s Traffic Anchor Madison Glassman, along with Investigative Producer Adrienne Mayfield, took a deeper dive into the data.

They compared traffic volume on a Monday in March of last year to a Monday in March of this year. Data shows traffic volume is down about 76 percent.

That also means we’re not seeing as many crashes.

In March to May of last year, VDOT reported about 6,000 crashes. This year, it’s about half that. Numbers show there have been about 3,300 crashes.

It’s clear Hampton Roads was driving less, and the environment certainly noticed.

“What we’re seeing with levels of pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, ozone or particulate matter, we have dropped somewhere between 5 and 30 percent,” said Craig Nicol, the regional director for the Virginia Department Of Environmental Quality.

Nicol said this is especially good news for people with underlying health issues.

“If someone was to have asthma, or some sort of breathing issue, this would alleviate hopefully some of those issues,” he said.

Air quality in Virginia has been increasing over the last 20 years, according to Nicol’s research. He said the lack of traffic for a brief period of time could make it better, but questions remain about the long-term effect.

“The question will be, has the pandemic changed people’s behaviors around driving and if so, will that create a long term impact on these numbers or is this just a temporary blip in the radar?” he said.

Those are questions that can only be answered as more Virginians start hitting roads again.

Although there have been fewer cars on the roads, Nicol says there are still quite a few trucks moving through the region. That’s why there hasn’t been a larger drop in levels of pollutants.
It’s important to note those trucks are delivering essential items during the pandemic.

It’s also important to note that just because the roads are clearer, doesn’t mean they’re safer. Speeding is on the rise, according to Virginia State Police.

As we’ve reported, VSP said nearly half of the fatal crashes since Gov. Ralph Northam’s state of emergency in March have been speed-related.

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