Traffic congestion in the Twin Cities.

New Project: What COVID Travel Reductions Tells Us About Effective Congestion Relief

As Minnesota worked to slow the transmission of COVID-19 in 2020, travel on MnDOT roadways dropped sharply and carried with it a corresponding drop in congestion. 

MnDOT is taking advantage of the opportunity to analyze real-world data to identify optimal reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) required to achieve the highest travel time savings on Minnesota roadways.  

“We’re trying to quantify the tipping point—the certain level of vehicle miles traveled at which congestion disappears,” said Bradley Utecht, investment planning director, MnDOT Office of Transportation System Management. “If a 5% reduction in VMT even lowers congestion, perhaps we can do that with travel demand management approaches.” 


A research study commissioned by MnDOT will evaluate two elements of the relationship between travel and congestion: 

  1. Linear or nonlinear relationship between VMT and congestion reduction.
  2. Locations and patterns of congestion reduction and fewer VMT in corridors.


  1. Collect and process traffic volume and speed loop detector data in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area from March through June 2021; GPS-enabled data; and information on nonrecurring congestion, weather, construction and traffic disruptions.
  2. Document milestones in national, state and regional responses to the pandemic, including stay-at-home orders, as contextual data.
  3. Analyze and report on findings with a view toward potential tipping points in VMT and congestion reduction acceleration.
  4. Report on regional and location-specific relationships and effects of travel and congestion reductions. 

Project Details

  • Estimated Start Date: 1/1/2021
  • Estimated Completion Date: 12/31/2021
  • Funding: Minnesota Department of Transportation
  • Principal Investigator: Paul Morris
  • Technical Liaison: Bradley Utecht 

Details of the research study work plan and timeline are subject to change.

To receive email updates about this project, visit MnDOT’s Office of Research & Innovation to subscribe.

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