TWM Contributor: Sheila Kimlinger, PE, SE
Date: March 2021
How the Pandemic Impacted Transportation in Illinois
Obviously, this past year has brought on many changes that may or may not be permanent. One of them was transportation changes that rippled throughout the state.
Early in the pandemic, stay-at-home orders were issued by many states and localities. This of course caused traffic to plummet to historic lows. One byproduct of this was impacts to developments that required traffic counts to study the need for additional turn lanes or traffic signal requirements. At first, there was no plan in place to deal with this, and development progress stalled in many areas. As traffic counts continued to lag through the summer, TWM worked with local review agencies in southern Illinois to devise a plan that predicted pre-pandemic levels of traffic at these developments, allowing progress to continue. We are seeing the traffic levels come back to close pre-pandemic levels in some areas, but it is a spotty resurgence, depending on specific traffic generators, such as closed collegiate campuses vs. a grocery/general merchandise shopping area.
Roadway Construction Stayed Stable
Less traffic also meant simpler roadway construction. Many projects planned for the 2020 construction season were finished ahead of schedule. In some cases, additional work was added to the project scope to take advantage of the extra time and ideal conditions. When IDOT announced it was keeping projects on track for current lettings, TWM had to quickly improvise, as many businesses did, to keep our engineers just as productive while working remotely from home (surveying was able to continue working outside as usual). By adapting a virtual network, we were able to make all of last spring’s bidding deadlines. With the 2021 construction season starting soon, it will be interesting to see how “business as usual” progresses for roadway contractors.
Recreational Trail Use Increased
Another change was the increase in recreational activities, including walking, jogging, and biking. Between the combination of more time due to less frequent commuting and lack of indoor activity options, reports of up to 200% increase in pedestrian traffic has been reported for trail use! This has led to a renewed interest in developing additional trails and keeping existing ones maintained at top quality. Our clients are responding—TWM has seen a large increase in the number of grant applications in 2020, with many of them successful so far (and more results pending). It is clear that recreational assets have become a treasured part of communities nationwide. We’re proud to be part of this infrastructure system. TWM has designed 30 miles of trails in the past 10 years, with nearly 10 miles more in various planning stages for our clients.
While 2020 brought many changes and challenges, TWM responded with mindful solutions to ensure our clients could carry on with their planned programs. 2021 will most likely bring different challenges, but with a clearer understanding of how the pandemic has shifted the transportation industry, we are better prepared to forge ahead and find solutions that work for the clients and communities we serve.
Find out more about TWM’s Transportation Services, including traffic engineering, roadway design, and trail and pedestrian bridges.