BOSTON (State House News Service) — If your driving commute in the greater Boston area has seemed surprisingly easy this week, you're not alone: traffic has been below average on major highways.
An analysis from the state Department of Transportation found that average travel times on several rush-hour routes were lower this week — when many events were canceled amid growing coronavirus concerns — compared to the the same points in 2019 and 2018.
Trip durations dropped Monday and then further decreased during the morning commute Tuesday, with travel times down as much as a third on Interstate 93 and as much as half on Interstate 90.
In 2018, a drive at 7 a.m. from the I-90/I-495 interchange to the Turnpike's Exit 18 near Allston, Brighton and Cambridge took an average of 52.5 minutes on March Mondays. The next March, the same trip at the same time of day averaged 44.5 minutes.
This Monday, the average travel time at 7 a.m. dropped to 39.7 minutes, close to a quarter of an hour faster.
Road conditions were even faster on Tuesday: the same Turnpike trip took an average of only 34.6 minutes, the longest stretch at any point during the morning commute.
The average 8 a.m. travel time of 31.4 minutes was about half of what it was last year.
"On most Tuesdays in March, congestion extends almost 20 miles back from Exit 18, to Route 9 at Exit 12," MassDOT wrote in its analysis. "On Tuesday, March 10, 2020, heavy congestion never formed."
Traffic on I-90. (Mario Jarjour/WBZ NewsRadio)
The department observed similar trends on I-93, with northbound and southbound commutes at the Tuesday morning rush hour 10 to 12 minutes faster than in previous years.
A handful of the routes examined, including I-90 westbound on Monday afternoon, did not depart significantly from their average travel times.
MassDOT did not speculate on a reason for the trend, and the department avoided linking the times to the COVID-19 illness spreading in Massachusetts.
However, many area events have been canceled in recent days on advice from officials to avoid large gatherings, and some businesses are pausing operations or allowing employees to work from home.
Several colleges and universities, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced this week that they would transition to online learning to limit spread of the virus.
The number of confirmed cases in Massachusetts reached 92 on Tuesday, prompting Gov. Charlie Baker to declare a state of emergency, restrict all executive branch work travel, and encourage remote work whenever possible.
Similar travel data was not available for the MBTA as of Tuesday evening.
"I don't have any data to share," MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said Monday afternoon when asked if ridership was down. "My experience was that it felt a touch lighter, but we'll wait until we have data to say something definitive."
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service