Thursday, August 10, 2017

Eclipse could cause historic traffic jams, hazards

The nation is gearing up for the Monday, Aug. 21, solar eclipse, which will cross 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina in about 90 minutes. As excited citizens buy eclipse glasses and book hotel rooms, communities are preparing for the huge influx of visitors and the strain they could place on local infrastructure such as cell phone networks. But another big problem to watch out for? Traffic. About 200 million people live within a day's drive of the path of totality – the narrow cross-country line where the sun will be completely hidden for up to two minutes and 40 seconds.

Officials are expecting millions to clog the roads, Jenni Bergal reports for Stateline, the the nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Dave Thompson, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Transportation, told her: "People are thinking they're just going to pop in, see it, and then turn around and head back home. They're not. They need to be prepared for long backups and have a full tank of gas and stuff in their car like water and food and medications they might need."

States are doing what they can to mitigate traffic issues. Many plan to suspend construction projects for the day. Idaho officials are identifying potential bottlenecks and ways to manage traffic. Missouri will monitor capacity at interstate rest areas and welcome centers so they can be closed to new entries when they fill up. Geographic information systems expert Michael Zeiler, who operates, a great one-stop source of eclipse information, created a map of potential traffic bottlenecks for the eclipse: map; click to view a larger version
Transportation officials are concerned about wrecks that could be caused by the congestion, confusion and people pulling onto road shoulders to observe the eclipse. They're particularly worried that drivers might take pictures while driving, or look up at the sun instead of at the road. Looking up at the sun is a no-win scenario: drivers who aren't wearing eclipse glasses could damage their eyes and become temporarily blinded, and those who are wearing eclipse glasses won't be able to see the road. Federal Highway Administration spokesperson Doug Hecox has simple advice for drivers: "Don’t stand on the interstate. Don’t pull your car over. Don’t take a selfie from a bridge. The risk of driver distraction from this once-in-a lifetime event has never been greater. We don’t want anyone to have an 'eclipse in judgment'."

No comments: