Highway 275

Traffic on Highway 275 near Norfolk.

As social distancing has become more widely observed, large gatherings and celebrations have become canceled or postponed. Businesses, such as Kelly’s Country Club, have taken notice.

“We had to cancel a lot of graduation parties, weddings, a reception for confirmation, two baby showers, two class reunions, a basketball banquet and a wrestling banquet,” said Kelly Benson, the country club’s manager. “For some of these events, the food had already arrived.”

With the extra food, the country club packaged and prepared the food to give to the Norfolk Rescue Mission.

In addition to the lack of events, Kelly’s also saw a lack of traffic.

Kelly’s Country Club is right off of Highway 275, west of Norfolk. In February, 4,421 vehicles drove by on average per day, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation. However in March, the first month impacted by coronavirus shutdowns statewide, only 3,820 vehicles passed by, almost a 14% decrease.

Across Nebraska, the state department of transportation has more than 60 automated traffic counting stations on county roads, highways and interstates, counting each car that goes by, every hour, every day, all year long. The stations stretch from the state line on Interstate 680 at the Mormon Bridge in Omaha (down 13% in March) to the state line on I-80 at the Pine Bluffs interchange in Kimball County (up 3.5%).

A Nebraska News Service analysis of individual traffic station data offered the first local view of what impact the coronavirus is having on the state's roadways. The state takes the daily count of cars, then averages them together to create a monthly count. Of the 62 counting stations statewide, 51 of them reported lower traffic volumes in March versus February.

That ranges from the 33,000 cars per day drop in March at 42nd Street on I-80 in Omaha, where 143,000 cars a day passed by last month to the five-car daily average drop on a county road north of Chappell in Deuel County, where 64 cars a day on average drove by.

So while March offered the first look at local traffic, it's a partial look. State and local authorities started ordering shutdowns mid-month in some places, later in others. Normal traffic levels were averaged in with below normal levels to get the monthly amount.

The state has more recent traffic summaries hinting that traffic dropped even more in April. In recent weeks, Interstate 80 west of Lincoln to the Wyoming state line was down 26% from previous years. Rural highways in the state were down 14%. Streets in Lincoln and Omaha were down 27% from the past. But those are wide summaries covering hundreds of miles of roadways.

Closer to the spot, the trends become more personal.

But at Kelly's, the news isn't all bad.

The country club and golf course established precautions such as adjusting the holes to decrease the amount of contact when grabbing the ball and sanitizing each cart after it’s been used. And that kept people coming out.

“We are seeing new faces because people (couldn’t) go to bars and parks, but they can come here to golf and get drinks and snacks to go,” Kelly said.

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Editor’s note: Look for more on traffic in area counties in Friday’s paper.

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