Tulsa County traffic has been down as much as 77% during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the decrease has led to a surge of people speeding and driving unsafely, according to traffic data and a state transportation official.
“There is a high volume of speeding for those who are still on the roads,” said Terri Angier, inter-agency liaison and chief of media and public relations for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
“We are very concerned that people not get used to the (excessive) speeds they have been traveling. We’re very concerned about those numbers. We really are,” she said.
A few weeks ago, traffic in Tulsa and in Oklahoma City was down 50% on the weekends and 40-45% during the week, she said.
As of Friday, that number is 25-30% down from normal, as the state and local governments gradually ease restrictions, she said. The state figures have been similar to Tulsa’s and Oklahoma City’s, she said.
Meanwhile, a company that tracks GPS data generated from smartphones and other GPS-enabled devices reports that motorists in Tulsa County have been driving less compared to statewide figures.
The data from StreetLight Data Inc. show average vehicle miles traveled in Oklahoma and Tulsa County both generally dropping precipitously during the week of spring break, in mid-March.
By the end of spring break, Tulsa County motorists were driving about 71% less compared to January average travel, according to the data, made available by The Associated Press to subscriber news outlets.
Also by the end of spring break week, motorists across the state continued to travel slightly more than those in Tulsa County. Travel in the state at the end of spring break, about March 22, was 66% less than in January.
Vehicle miles traveled finally bottomed out on Easter for state motorists and those just in Tulsa County, according to the data from StreetLight Data Inc.
Travel by Tulsa County motorists on Easter was 77% less than the January baseline. Statewide, motorist travel on Easter, which was on April 12 this year, was about 74% less than the January baseline.
Since Easter, motorists in Tulsa County and statewide have been steadily increasing the number of miles they drive each day.
By Friday, the most recent day data are available, Tulsa County motorists were traveling about 28% less than they were in January, compared to state motorists, whose travel mileage was about 13% less on Friday than in January.
Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin voiced similar safety concerns last week during a city briefing updating residents on the pandemic.
Franklin said the Police Department has specifically seen an increase in residents showing reckless disregard for roadway safety. He pleaded with motorists to be more cautious.
“Whether it’s COVID-19 or a traffic collision, if you’re dead, you’re dead,” Franklin said.
Angier said ODOT does not yet have statistics on specific areas of concern, “but we’re seeing them everywhere. If we are seeing it this quickly, that means it’s really of a concern. (Some drivers) are forming habits that we really worry about.”
ODOT will begin observation of Work Zone Safety week beginning Friday and is asking motorists to slow down, especially in construction zones.
There are currently about 250 work zone construction areas in the state, Angier said.
While worker safety is a concern, she said the number of drivers killed in construction zones is four times the number of construction workers killed.
Meanwhile, she said that while the state budget is still being finalized, ODOT may have to start “rebalancing” its eight-year construction projects plan this summer, depending on how much the agency will be facing in cuts.
“It’s really hard to plan for it,” Angier said of the budget. She said ODOT has cut its number of employees from 3,200 in the 1990s to about 2,400 currently.
“We have worked extremely hard since the 1990s (to) cut overhead to the point that any significant cuts will affect projects,” she said.
However, she added that even since the pandemic hit, the progress on many current construction projects has “been very good.”
“So far, it’s been really surprisingly good in the sense that contractors have been taking advantage of the lower (traffic) volumes.”