OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Transportation officials in Oregon and Washington have a message for the region’s drivers: However bad you think traffic is going to be during next week’s total solar eclipse, it’s probably going to be worse than you imagine.
While just a 60-to-70 mile wide swath of central Oregon is within the path of totality next Monday, Washington and Oregon officials say that significant backups are expected throughout both states both before and after the short event ends, with potentially hundreds of thousands of people clogging the roadways as they try to drive home or head to airports.
“This is the biggest transportation event that has ever hit Oregon,” said Dave Thompson, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The eclipse is the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the United States since 1918, and the first to hit any section of the U.S. mainland since 1979.
In Oregon about a million people are expected to cluster in various areas in the central part of the state to watch the event. The moon first starts to cross the sun in Oregon shortly after 9 a.m. PDT, and totality — when the moon completely eclipses the sun — begins near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 10:15 a.m. PDT and lasts just under two minutes.
Officials say while many eclipse enthusiasts who traveled to the region will stay after it ends, many will immediately take to the roads, potentially overwhelming the system.
They also say those who live in Washington state or in other parts of Oregon who think they can drive to central Oregon the day of the eclipse are likely to find themselves stuck in traffic so bad they risk missing the eclipse, and also running out of gas and other essentials.
Here’s what officials say drivers should expect — and things they should plan:
ECLIPSE GATHERINGS: Oregon officials say that more than 150 events are planned throughout the state, including at the state Capitol in Salem, wineries, and national forests. Officials suggest getting to where you need to get a few days in advance, and plan to extend your trip. Many hotels and campgrounds have been long booked, and camping in highway rest areas is not allowed.
WHAT TO BRING: Make sure you have extra supplies of everything you might need for several hours in the car: water, food, medications and an emergency kit, as well as a full tank of gas. Officials also suggest bringing a paper map since cell service may be spotty and GPS unreliable. Also make sure to have proper eclipse watching glasses.
EXPECTED CHOKE POINTS ON THE ROAD: Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 bridges that connect Vancouver, Washington, and Portland, Oregon; Interstate 82 in Benton County; US 97 in Klickitat County; State Road 14 along the Columbia River Gorge; US 197 in Dallesport; State Road 433, the Lewis and Clark Bridge between Longview, Washington, and Rainier, Oregon; State Road 4, Longview to Naselle; SR 401, Naselle to Dismal Nitch; and US 101, Ilwaco, Washington to Astoria, Oregon. Officials warn that even areas not listed can see significant traffic increases.
DRIVE SAFELY: If you’re driving, keep your eyes on the road. Also, don’t drive with your eclipse glasses on, they’re too dark. The emergency shoulder is for emergencies only: No pulling over to watch the eclipse. Heat and wildfires are top concerns for state officials, and the increased number of cars in proximity to dry grass is why they also suggest bringing a fire extinguisher.
WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO AREN’T ECLIPSE ENTHUSIASTS AND JUST NEED TO GET TO WORK THAT DAY?: Especially for residents who live in southern Washington and commute
daily to work in Portland, an already tough rush hour across the bridges connecting the two states is likely to be more challenging. According to Washington state officials, about 66,000 people live in Clark County and commute to work in Oregon every day, while about 20,000 people live in the Portland area and drive into Clark County for work. Officials suggesting telecommuting or altering work hours if possible.
SOCIAL MEDIA TO WATCH FOR TRAFFIC UPDATES: Washington DOT Twitter page, http://bit.ly/2wvsdEz ; Oregon DOT Twitter page, http://bit.ly/2v6vXvL ; Oregon TripCheck: http://www.TripCheck.com ; Washington traffic alerts: http://bit.ly/2u9o2fG .