ATRI speed graphic

ATRI: Deliveries continue despite COVID-19 pandemic

March 26, 2020
Analysis of GPS data typically used in bottleneck report shows trucks gaining speed as rush-hour traffic dissipates

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) this week is releasing new data showing that trucks are continuing to move—in many cases faster than usual—to respond to the demands placed on the industry by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“ATRI’s real-time GPS data comes from more than a million trucks, allowing us to analyze freight flows, and so far in March, what we are seeing is an unprecedented level of truck movement,” said Rebecca Brewster, ATRI president and chief operating officer. “Not only are trucks continuing to move, but they are doing so at speeds well in excess of normal traffic patterns.”

For example, according to ATRI’s data, at the intersection of I-85 and I-285 in Atlanta, known locally as Spaghetti Junction, afternoon rush hour truck speeds are typically less than 15 mph due to congestion.  Last week, truck speeds averaged 53 mph.  

“Spaghetti Junction is typical of what we’ve seen across the country, especially in areas hit hard by the virus and subject to quarantines and lockdowns,” Brewster said. “As other traffic dissipates, trucks continue to move, delivering much-needed relief supplies to markets, hospitals, gas stations and other essential businesses.”

Among the hardest hit states, New York, California and Illinois, the data is showing similar changes.

  • In New York, along I-495 in Queens, the afternoon rush hour typically sees average truck speeds of 16 mph.  Speeds have now more than doubled, averaging 38 mph, still below the posted speed limit but certainly an improvement.
  • In Los Angeles, at the intersection of I-710 and I-105, truck speeds during highly congested morning rush hours are normally less than 25 mph between the hours of 6 am and 8 am.  Truck speeds are now averaging 53 mph in the morning as Californians stay home but truck deliveries increase.
  • At the Byrne Interchange in Chicago, where I-290 intersects with I-90/I-94, morning truck speeds are now averaging 43 mph, more than twice the typical morning rush hour speed of 20 mph.

According to ATRI’s analysis, the results can be explained by several COVID-19 related factors. First is the dramatic reduction in commuter traffic, allowing trucks to operate at higher speeds, particularly during traditional rush hours. Second, is the continuous 24/7 truck operations that generate higher average truck speeds across nearly all hours of the day.  

ATRI’s analysis used truck GPS data from more than a million heavy-duty trucks and the locations examined included some of the nation’s top truck choke points.

“Normally, ATRI’s bottleneck data is used to show us where the problems are on our highway system,” said Chris Spear, president of American Trucking Associations. “But during this period of extreme uncertainty, the data is showing us where the solution is—in the back of America’s trucks as professional drivers continue to quickly and safely deliver life-sustaining medical supplies, food, fuel and other essentials to Americans when they need it most.”