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Less traffic due to COVID-19 gives Billings road crews jump start on spring projects

Posted at 5:28 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 21:34:14-04

Road construction is underway in Billings, and city officials said Friday work could move more quickly because of a decrease in road traffic from the coronavirus pandemic.

Summer road projects usually kick off in the spring. Also, once schools close, it's an ideal time for road crews to get projects started, city officials say.

Erin Claunch, an engineer with the city’s Public Works office, says the city noticed a decrease in traffic at intersections and roadways in March following Gov. Steve Bullock's shelter-in-place and school closure orders.

He says some areas saw as much as a 50 percent decrease in traffic.

“We’ve got a handful of intersections around the city that we are monitoring. We have seen a decrease as much as 40 and 50 percent a few weeks ago when the shelter-in-place guidelines first started taking hold,” said Claunch.

Right now, the Montana Department of Transportation is working on its 27th Street project, which is set to run all summer.

In conjunction with that project, drivers will notice the replacement of waterlines on First Avenue North between North 33rd and 31st streets, lining the downtown corridor.

Although Claunch says although the city is starting to see traffic numbers climb back up to normal, engineers have been able to allow road construction project managers flexibility with the roadways.

“We are seeing a big impact in the traffic. Recently we are seeing a trend in the opposite direction again starting to come back up,” he said. “It’s almost driving back up to normal traffic at this point.”

That being said, the coronavirus means a change in safety protocol for road construction crews.

Claunch said the coronavirus has also forced the implementation of safety standards through social distancing, even for road crews.