NOTTINGHAM, MD—Marylanders are returning to roadways, airways, and other forms of travel in numbers approaching pre-pandemic levels, marking major milestones for state transportation, tourism and economic recovery.
“Holiday travel during the Fourth of July Weekend exceeding 2019 levels is an important milestone signaling our state’s strong recovery from the pandemic,” said Governor Larry Hogan. “Traffic volumes are exceeding pre-pandemic levels across the state, including at the American Legion Bridge, making the need for our Traffic Relief Plan more urgent than ever”
At the height of the pandemic, statewide highway travel fell by as much as 50% and passenger traffic at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport dropped more than 90% as Marylanders heeded Governor Hogan’s call to limit travel to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) has seen many of those trends reverse with the lifting of the State of Emergency, the widespread success of COVID-19 vaccinations in Maryland, and the onset of the summer vacation season.
“Marylanders are getting back to business and back to their lives with growing confidence,” MDOT Secretary Greg Slater said. “The numbers we’re seeing around the state reflects the strong desire of travelers to work, play and experience everything Maryland has to offer – and it also shows the demand for reliable, safe and healthy transportation options.”
Roadways/Bridges: Comparing the first week of July 2019 to the same week in 2021 – both leading into the Fourth of July weekend – total vehicular traffic on Maryland roadways this year surpassed 2019 levels for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Statewide figures recorded by MDOT State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) show a 0.4% increase in traffic levels this year compared to the first week in July 2019.
For the Baltimore area, in the stretch of the Baltimore Beltway between I-895 and US 1, average daily traffic this year was 138,460 for the week leading into the Fourth of July weekend, an increase of 5% compared to 131,872 for the same week in 2019. In the National Capital Region, volumes on the Capital Beltway at the American Legion Bridge exceeded pre-pandemic levels with average daily traffic of 226,851 this year, an increase of 0.26% compared to 226,274 for the same week in 2019.
Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) bridges and other toll facilities exceeded 2019 customer volumes for the first time since March 2020. At the Bay Bridge, average daily traffic during the first week in July also exceeded pre-pandemic numbers. Bay Bridge traffic was up 0.92% compared to the same week in July 2019, from 88,700 in 2019 to 89,514 this year.
Numbers leading into the Fourth of July weekend represent a milestone in the recovery. Traffic volumes have been on the increase in recent months, though weekly averages are generally still down between 6% and 10% statewide.
BWI Marshall: On Friday, July 2, BWI Marshall Airport experienced its busiest day for departing passenger traffic since the start of the pandemic, as the Transportation Security Administration screened 28,655 departing passengers. Overall, weekly volumes remain about 25% lower than 2019 levels as business travel still lags behind leisure travel, but air traffic continues to grow on a weekly basis.
Port of Baltimore: The Port has seen a robust rebound from the pandemic, reflecting consumer demand for goods and Maryland’s stature as a key hub for the growing e-commence industry. In May of this year, general cargo figures eclipsed pre-pandemic numbers – up 2% over May 2019 – and roll on/roll off farm and construction equipment was up 1.2% compared to the same period in 2019. Paper products through the Port rose 235% in May 2021 compared to May 2019, including business from a major new contract with Metsa Group of Finland that consolidates Metsa’s Mid-Atlantic paper volumes through Baltimore.
The Port is expected to see even more volume, job and revenue growth. Last month, MDOT Maryland Port Administration announced new container service through Southeast Asia/Vietnam and China with Maersk Line. The Port also completed dredging for a second, 50-foot-deep berth at the Seagirt Marine Terminal that is expected to be operational later this year, and four new, massive cranes to serve that berth are arriving this summer. Additionally, construction is expected to start by the end of the year on the expansion of the Howard Street Tunnel to allow for double-stacked rail cars serving the Port. The additional deep berth and the Howard Street Tunnel project will expand the Port’s capacity and produce thousands of new jobs.
Motor Vehicle Services: For the past year MDOT Motor Vehicle Administration has operated under an appointment-only model to promote safety and health of customers. During that time, the agency has significantly expanded its online service available through the innovative Customer Connect system. As a result, MDOT MVA is now serving more customers online than ever before, and serving more people overall than it did before the pandemic.
From March through June 2021, MDOT MVA completed a total 2,720,358 transactions across all platforms – branches, online and at kiosks – compared to 2,495,519 for the same period in 2019. That’s nearly 225,000 additional transactions, or an increase of 9%. The increase was led by a 43% jump in online transactions, from 983,358 for that four-month period in 2019 to 1,410,958 in 2021. In June 2021, branch and online transactions were both higher than June 2019 figures. Even under the appointment-only model, branches served 303,391 transactions in June 2021 compared to 278,534 in June 2019. Online transactions rose from 232,602 in June 2019 to 390,151 in June 2021.
Additionally, MDOT MVA continues to lead the nation in helping Marylanders meet the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s May 3, 2023, REAL ID deadline. Currently 80% of Maryland drivers are compliant, one of the highest percentages in the nation.
Transit Operations: MDOT Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT MTA) continues to ensure bus and rail services remain safe and reliable. Ridership across all MDOT MTA services has consistently been down about 60% during the pandemic compared to 2019. For the first week of July, Core Bus was down 47%, Light Rail was down 57%, Metro Subway was down 78%, Commuter Bus was down 81% and MARC Rail was down 86%. Transit agencies across the country have experienced dramatic declines during COVID-19, and transit ridership is expected to take longer to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
To help support a return to transit, MDOT MTA is resuming full scheduled service on MARC and Commuter Bus as many Marylanders reduce teleworking and return to work onsite. The agency also is working to attract new and returning riders with features such as bicycle racks on MARC trains and new three- and 10-day fare passes for Local Bus, Light Rail, Metro Subway, Commuter Bus and MARC Train.
In addition, Governor Hogan acted to mitigate legislatively mandated Core Service fare increases to support and promote transit ridership. Last month, Governor Hogan authorized the use of funds from the American Relief Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) to offset the impact associated with the mandated fare increase, meaning riders will experience no increase in Core Service fares for the coming year.