Traffic has returned to nearly normal on Utah highways

Now at 101% of what it was pre-pandemic overall, but rush hour traffic is lighter.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Traffic on 400 South in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.

Remember how Utah traffic dropped during pandemic stay-at-home orders last spring? It bottomed out in April at just 63% of normal.

That’s little more than a fond memory now.

In the last week, Utah traffic on average statewide is now at 101% of what it before the pandemic hit, Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, told lawmakers on Friday.

“So, we’ve come back.”

However, before traffic rebounded, the state took a significant hit in its motor fuel tax collection last year, which affects spending for highways and other transportation.

For example, Braceras said the number of taxable gallons of gasoline sold in Utah was down by 5.1% from last July through November.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Carlos Braceras, Utah Department of Transportation executive director, is shown in this file photo at a news conference. On Friday, Braceras told lawmakers that traffic is back to where it was before the pandemic. Gas tax receipts, though, are down because of the stay-at-home orders last spring.

However, the amount of diesel fuel sold increased by 3.6%. “Trucks are moving,” he said.

The combined total was a reduction in gallons sold in the period of 2.1%.

Also, Braceras said aviation fuel sales was down by 31.3%. Money from that source goes to a state aviation fund used to help make improvements at airports statewide.

UDOT data says that for all of 2020 — including times before coronavirus, during stay-at-home orders and after them — highway traffic averaged out to 90% of normal for the year.

Even though traffic has returned now nearly to pre-pandemic normal, Braceras said morning and evening rush hours are lighter than in the past — especially in the mornings.

“What we’re seeing is the reflection of … more teleworking, people working from home,” he said.

Traffic also varies by region.

• In Salt Lake, Tooele and Summit counties traffic over the past week has been at 98% of pre-pandemic levels, the lowest in the state.

• In the southern half of the state traffic has been at 120% of normal.

• In Utah County and a central strip of the state it has been at 104%.

• And in Davis and Weber counties and the northern neck of the state — it has been at 103% of normal.

Even though traffic was down in 2020 because of COVID, Braceras noted that highway deaths increased: from 265 in 2019 to 282 in 2020.

“This year we saw less travel … but we saw more fatalities,” he said. “Most of the increase in fatalities has taken place on the lower-speed roadways. We still have a lot of work to do to try to drill in to try to figure out what’s going on.”

Earlier in the pandemic some officials noted some motorists were driving at ultra-high speeds on highways that were wide open because of the pandemic, and accidents at such high speeds are more likely to be fatal.