As the backbone and arteries of a comprehensive transportation network, highways play an important role in improving people’s living standards and promoting economic growth. However, globally, there is limited quantifiable data evaluating the highway traffic state, characteristics, and performance. From the 1960s to the present, remote sensing has been regarded as the most effective technology for long-term and large-scale monitoring of surface information. However, how to reflect the dynamic “flow” information of traffic with a static remote sensing image has always been a difficult problem that is hard to solve in the field. This study aims to construct a method of evaluating highway traffic prosperity using nighttime remote sensing. First, based on nighttime light data that indicate social and economic activities, a highway-oriented method was proposed to extract highway nighttime light data from 2015 annual nighttime light data of the Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite sensor (SNPP-VIIRS). Subsequently, Pearson correlation analysis was used to fit the relationship between freeway traffic flow volume and freeway nighttime light at the provincial level. The results showed that Pearson Correlation Coefficient of freeway nighttime light and freeway traffic flow volume for coach and truck are 0.905 and 0.731, respectively, which are higher than between freeway traffic flow volume for coach and truck and total nighttime light (0.593 and 0.516, respectively). A new index—Highway Nighttime Traffic Prosperity Index (HNTPI)—was proposed to evaluate highway traffic across China. The results showed that HNTPI has a strong correspondence with socio-economic parameters. The Pearson Correlation Coefficient of HNTPI and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, consumption per capita, and population are 0.772, 0.895, and 0.968, respectively. There is a huge spatial heterogeneity in China nighttime traffic, the prosperity degree of highway traffic in developed coastal areas is obviously higher than that inland. The national general highway is the most prosperous highway at night and the national general highway nighttime prosperity of Shanghai reached 22.34%. This research provides basic data for the long-term monitoring and evaluation of regional traffic operation at night and research on the correlation between regional highway construction and the economy.
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