Pandemic packs even more cars onto Tampa's crowded roads

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended traffic in Tampa Bay, creating a seemingly endless rush hour period, according to data recently released in a national traffic study.

Inrix, which tracks traffic data, reported 40 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas are more congested on weekday afternoons than they were before the pandemic and Tampa is near the top of the list, where vehicle trips are 105 percent of pre-pandemic levels.  

That's the highest increase among areas with at least three million residents.

Law enforcement and travel experts believe a lot of people have traveled or even relocated to Florida to escape more restrictive states during the pandemic.

"As we begin to get back to where we were a couple years ago, people are going back to work, kids are going back to school, and people are going back out to dinner. With that, many more vehicles out on the roadway, we have to be safe," said Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Ken Watson. "Seeing this increase of people coming to Florida and staying in Florida only means more traffic."

Watson pointed out about 60 million people have visited Florida since January, but many of them have stayed.

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The data does not surprise Matt Nasworthy, a AAA spokesperson, who said a lot of people are now working from home and traveling around during their afternoons.

"You're talking 2 to 4 p.m., that would be when we would see a lull in traffic," Nasworthy said. "Now, with people working from home and people adjusting their work hours, that might be a time when people are getting to run those errands."

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Seven of the top 10 cities with an increase in afternoon travel rate are in Florida, including Sarasota and Lakeland.