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Economic report: Bryan-College Station traffic volume dips as COVID cases rise again

Economic report: Bryan-College Station traffic volume dips as COVID cases rise again

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Texas A&M’s Private Enterprise Research Center released its monthly Economic Indicators report Thursday morning. The presentation included data showing that local and statewide auto traffic volume, which had largely rebounded after a precipitous decline in late March and April, has dipped modestly in recent weeks. 

StreetLight Data measured the number of miles driven relative to the first week of March and found that Bryan-College Station’s drivers traveled less than 20% of normal distances in early April. That percentage climbed significantly in late May through mid-June but has lessened again since, though less dramatically, as local COVID-19 cases rose sharply.

The figures are derived, according to the research center’s report, by the data company aggregating cellphone and navigation device data to determine the number of miles traveled in a particular area.

On April 19, according to numbers from MS2’s daily traffic dashboard, traffic in Texas was 50% lower than the same day in 2019. On May 10, daily traffic was 10% lower than the same day in 2019. On June 17, the statewide number was down 8.7% in 2020 compared to 2019; on July 5 the year-over-year decrease was at 15.7% and it was 16.4% on July 12. 

Texas A&M Transportation Institute Regents Fellow Tim Lomax said in an interview Thursday afternoon that nationally, traffic volume has somewhat rebounded from early-in-the-pandemic lows, but for the most part, traffic congestion has not returned nationwide.

“If you would’ve told me then that four or five months in, we would have a little bit less volume than normal but that traffic congestion hasn’t come back, I would’ve been surprised,” Lomax said.

He said that freight travel, or the movement of goods, has been impacted far less than personal travel since mid-March.

Lomax also said that data on traffic volume and congestion from state-to-state and city-to-city, despite divergent political and public health responses across municipalities, has “not been as much as I would have thought.”

“If you think about the range of government policies, you’d think that the volume declines would have been across a much broader range,” he said. “Why is that happening? It’s probably because people’s individual behavior is being informed by the media and by the experiences of others — and that shared experience over a variety of media are leading to much more similar behavior than you might expect.”

Additionally, Lomax said that as with most aspects of life in Bryan-College Station, learning institutions’ decisions on how to operate amid the pandemic will have far-reaching implications on local transportation, from traffic to bus ridership to parking availability.

“All of this is going to be very different in places like Bryan-College Station than, say, Houston or Dallas or San Antonio, with how important the 60,000-plus students are to our travel patterns and our economy,” Lomax said. 

The A&M research center report also shared Transportation Security Administration data showing that air traffic at Easterwood Airport increased in June from May and April’s figures, similar to national patterns — though still far below 2019 air travel numbers. June 2020 enplanements, at 1,241 passengers, were 18.9% of June 2019 enplanements. April 2020’s enplanements were, at 312 passengers, 4.3% of April 2019’s figures.

Similar to the national pattern, total enplanements out of Easterwood for March 2020 were 57% of enplanements from March 2019. In April, the 312 passengers who flew out of Easterwood were 4.3% of the enplanements during April 2019. May’s count of 1,188 passengers was 16.1% of the count from May 2019. June’s 1,241 enplanements were 18.9% of June 2019 enplanements. 

The monthly index, sponsored by the Brazos Valley Economic Development Corporation, also indicates that in the Bryan-College Station area, 13,794 initial unemployment claims were filed between the weeks ending on March 14 to June 27.

The local unemployment rate as of the end of May was 8.9%, and the state rate was 13.0%. The June unemployment figure for Texas will be released today, and the local rate will be released July 29, according to the research center’s report.

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Two Texas A&M Private Enterprise Research Center (PERC) economists shared data Wednesday morning to provide insight into the vast economic downturn endured locally and nationally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As restaurants start to reopen and daily car traffic climbs — as does the number of local coronavirus cases — the economists said there are early signs of economic progress, and also clear indications that full recovery will be a lengthy process.

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