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caption: Rush hour traffic is shown along the Alaskan Way Viaduct on Wednesday, January 9, 2019, in Seattle.
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Rush hour traffic is shown along the Alaskan Way Viaduct on Wednesday, January 9, 2019, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Traffic congestion returns to Seattle area

As more people get out from their homes and behind the wheel, traffic volumes are bouncing back in the Seattle area. That means the nemesis of the Seattle commuter is returning as well. Congestion.

After plummeting by half in March, and weeks of strangely empty highways, statewide traffic volumes have bounced back to 81 percent of their pre-pandemic baseline, according to the Washington state Department of Transportation.

Rush hour grew busy enough in May that the state has resumed using metered traffic signals at on-ramps on Interstate 5 and other highways in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

“Congestion is still down quite a bit,” said Mark Hallenbeck, a University of Washington transportation researcher. “That's partly because the easiest trips to get rid of are a lot of the downtown office trips. Those kinds of jobs are a lot easier to stay at home for.”

Driving has rebounded as industries like construction reopen and as people tire of staying at home. Whether traffic will get as bad as it used to be is an open question: Some businesses want their employees to keep working from home, pandemic or no.

Hallenbeck said if people go to work every day but remain reluctant to ride with strangers on mass transit, “it's going to be really ugly.”

As of May 26, King County Metro ridership was at 27 percent, Sound Transit at 14 percent and Washington State Ferries at 51 percent of pre-pandemic baselines.