April 15, 2021 3:00 PM, EDT

In Pandemic-Era First, Driving on US Highways Tops 2019 Levels

Traffic moves along Highway 101 in San Francisco, Calif., on Nov. 25. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)Traffic moves along Highway 101 in San Francisco, Calif., on Nov. 25. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

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Here’s the latest sign of the great U.S. gasoline comeback: For the first time since the pandemic started, driving on the nation’s highways is higher than at the same time in 2019.

Vehicle miles traveled on interstates rose to roughly 16.7 billion in the week ended April 11 — 1% higher than in 2019, U.S. government data showed. The last time there was an increase versus 2019 was in early March of last year, before the World Health Organization had declared a pandemic.

Breaking down the figures, the increase comes mostly from a boost in trucking, which rose 7% compared to the same week two years ago. Truck miles have been steadily higher in the past few months.

Miles traveled on U.S. highways are up vs. same week 2019 for first time since March 2020.

But what’s really interesting is that passenger vehicle miles, while still down from 2019, have recovered a lot. The figure in the week ended April 11 was just 1% lower versus the same period in 2019. That compares with declines of 20% or even 50% in prior weeks during the pandemic.

The data from the Transportation Department underscores the demand rebound as an increase in vaccinations allows people to return to offices and travel again. One measure of U.S. gasoline consumption pegs it at the strongest since August.

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