Nebraska’s loneliest roads are getting lonelier, and even its busiest highways are seeing significant drops in traffic.
Traffic counts since the spread of the coronavirus show sharp decreases on all types of roads across the state, with stretches of Interstate 80 opening up the most. Between Lincoln and Iowa, for example, I-80 and its related routes — I-180, I-480 and I-680 — recorded a 41% drop in traffic last week.
I-80 west of Lincoln was 36% quieter, and traffic on rural highways — non-interstates in areas with populations of fewer than 5,000 — was down 24%.
The state assembled the data by comparing recent weeklong traffic counts with the average volume recorded during the same periods between 2016 and 2018. It didn’t use last year’s numbers because they were skewed by statewide flooding disruptions.
In a news release, State Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis called the traffic data a tool for helping his department understand how COVID-19 is affecting Nebraska.
The statewide 29% decrease and other traffic patterns will have impacts on how his department manages the transportation system, he added.
For example, traffic on Nebraska 66 backed up outside Wildlife Safari Park near Ashland last weekend, and the state will keep its popularity in mind when beginning a nearby construction project, spokeswoman Vicki Kramer said.
“How are we making changes to the traffic management plan in order to make sure we provide the least amount of impact?”
Also in the release: Semi traffic was at near-normal levels, Schneweis said.
The numbers reinforced the suspicions of the Nebraska State Patrol, which ticketed 28 people for traveling more than 100 mph between March 18 and March 25.
The emptier roads must have been making it more inviting — and more possible — for triple-digit speeding, Capt. Jason Scott said last week. Especially in the Omaha area.
“Typically in a morning commute at 8 a.m., there’s not room for people to do 100 mph,” he said. “It’s tough to do 45 sometimes.”
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