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How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted rush hour traffic?

Traffic is returning as people head back to work in-person, but researchers are seeing a difference.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A lot has changed over the past year and that includes what times interstates and highways see the most traffic.

Traffic is returning as people head back to work in person, but researchers are seeing a difference.  

Streetlight data looked at traffic patterns in big cities and it found by March of this year, morning rush hour traffic had rebounded. But it still wasn't at pre-pandemic levels.

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Instead, traffic built slowly throughout the day, culminating in a big afternoon rush. Researchers have some theories about this new pattern. They think people who continue to work from home are not necessarily staying at home. 

They are going out in the afternoon to head to coffee shops, on-site meetings, or simply run errands. That can create a worse rush hour in the evenings.

RELATED: Data reveals new rush-hour traffic patterns as more people return to the office

All of this is important to figure out as states and cities plan for the future. They need to know what projects to fund to ease traffic troubles. 

Some experts predict the post-pandemic workdays will be a mix. With some offices offering a hybrid of work-from-home and in-person schedules, it could be even harder to predict what your commute will look like. 

RELATED: Fewer people were driving during the pandemic, more people still died

Contact Ben Thompson at bthompson@wcnc.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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