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Study shows traffic congestion in Chicago has returned to pre-pandemic levels

Traffic congestion in Chicago back to pre-pandemic levels, studies show
Traffic congestion in Chicago back to pre-pandemic levels, studies show 02:09

CHICAGO (CBS) – If you feel like you're crawling in gridlock traffic at almost all times of the day, you might be onto something.

Researchers in Chicago said traffic has returned to the levels we saw before the pandemic.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey showed us how in some cases, it's worse and how remote work schedules are playing a big role.

Because of remote or hybrid schedules, drivers are hitting the road at all times of the day, making the congestion more unpredictable than it was before COVID-19 came to Chicago.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has been tasked with studying when and how people get from place to place in this post-pandemic world, and coming up with solutions to ease the congestion.

Ridership is down on trains, particularly on Mondays and Fridays.

CMAP found that if 25% of those who used to take public transit before COVID use a car instead, drivers in Chicago will spend an extra 193,000 hours on the road each weekday.

What's the solution to Chicago's worsening traffic congestion? 02:34

When it comes to the expressway, in September, the average interstate speeds were about the same as they were in 2019.

But with fewer cars on the road, drivers were traveling 10 miles per hour faster in mid-2020. Researchers believe that could be responsible for the record traffic fatalities.

Erin Aleman, the executive director of CMAP, said the increased pandemic demand for consumer goods to be delivered to front doors is also contributing to the traffic nightmares.

"We are seeing that traffic volumes for passenger vehicles are at pre-pandemic levels," Aleman said. "But one unique thing that we're seeing right now is really that small freight trucks, delivery trucks that bring us our things that we were ordering online, that traffic is up 10% to 15% over 2019 numbers."

Aleman added she believes the city will continue to see more congestion.

Which is why CMAP will present its findings to its board of directors and ultimately lawmakers in Chicago. Aleman said they're going to help communities become more walkable or bikable, and work with lawmakers to improve public transit and figure out how to fund it.

Otherwise, the gridlock will only get worse.

"I think the future would be bleak if we don't make some of these adjustments," Aleman said.

CMAP said that sitting in traffic is costing residents money. In all, about $1 billion in total lost productivity for the economy. So it's not just frustrating, it's hurting the bottom line.

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