COVID pandemic causes drastic change in Chicago traffic

Many things have changed in the past year due to the COVID pandemic, but among the most dramatic have been the shift in traffic patterns on roads and rails in the Chicago area.

Video Transcript

ROZ VARON: This is the Eisenhower Expressway on the first day of the stay-at-home order last March.

MATTHEW DAEDA: We started seeing close to a 30% to 40% drop in traffic on the area expressways. It was kind of amazing to see how all the traffic just disappeared. And how empty our roadways were.

BRIAN STEELE: Literally overnight, our ridership went from about 1.5 million riders on an average weekday to about 250,000 or 300,000.

ROCCO ZUCCERO: As we moved into spring and into late summer, we did start seeing a recovery on the commercial vehicles as supply chains and logistics companies figured it out and made their connections again.

JAMES DERWINSKI: Then October hit and the pandemic numbers went negative again. And we saw ridership completely fall with that.

ROZ VARON: It's been a roller coaster ride ever since. Here, you can see the direct correlation between the number of trips on Chicago expressways to the number of Chicago COVID deaths. From March 2020 February 2021, as the number of COVID deaths increase, the number of expressway trips decrease. With less traffic on the expressways, there was a higher tendency to speed.

MATTHEW DAEDA: We reached out to Illinois State Police just to find out. And in 2020, they say they issued over 4,000 speeding tickets for people traveling more than 100 miles per hour on our roadways.

ROZ VARON: One of the biggest changes for traffic to come out of the pandemic is the permanent elimination of cash toll plazas along the Illinois tollway. It began last March as a safety precaution for drivers and employees. Now, the only options are I-PASS or pay online.

ROCCO ZUCCERO: This is something that we've been moving towards for a long time when we first instituted a I-PASS express lanes back in the late '90s. And then we went to open road tolling in the early 2000s. So it's really the next iteration, and it's something the industry is looking at as a whole.

ROZ VARON: What the commute will look like moving forward is still unknown. But you can expect changes as patterns settle in.

BRIAN STEELE: We still see pretty big jumps during the AM and PM rush, but they're not as significant as they used to be. So again, ridership is spread out more during the day. So that may mean that you may see a more frequent train and bus service during some of the off-peak hours.

JAMES DERWINSKI: Actually, what we're looking at is rather than kind of cutting off the rush hour at 9:00, maybe gets cut off at 10:00. And then we have more mid-day service levels.

ROZ VARON: One thing that hasn't been affected by the pandemic, construction. Expect a full schedule of projects and repairs on the expressways and tollways this year. Roz Varon, ABC7 Eyewitness News.