Late Eclipse Travelers Risk Stellar Traffic Jams
It’s 11:47 a.m. Monday, Aug. 21, and millions of people are watching the “Great American Solar Eclipse” in Wyoming and Nebraska. But you’re stuck in a galactic traffic jam on I-25, with thousands of others who left home too late.
Oh, you’ll see a version of the eclipse, but it won’t be the same spectacle visible to the people already within the 70-mile-wide path where the moon will block the sun totally.
The Colorado State Patrol, and public safety agencies across the country, are warning moon-shadow chasers to leave early and to be prepared.
Wyoming’s (estimated 2016) population of 585,501 should more than double as upwards of 600,000 people, mostly from Colorado, head to where the sun shines darkest, according to a report by Denver Post writer Libby Rainey. Those who are best prepared will get the most out of the event.
Among the most important tips for travelers are to leave early; bring extra supplies, including a full tank of gasoline, food, and plenty of water; and book a place to stay ahead of time. Otherwise, expect to face big-city traffic jams in the middle of the desert. There will probably be no hotel rooms left close to the zone. If you can get there, you’re welcome to pitch your tent on federal lands.
Eclipse pilgrims can get situation updates leading up to the event by texting “ECLIPSE” to 888777. In Colorado, you can also go to http://www.cotrip.org and in Wyoming, you can go to http://www.wyoroad.info for real-time traffic updates.
Traffic Impact Is Hard to Forecast
The northward migration will put a big stress on roads like I-25, which has about 83,000 cars, trucks, and motorcycles a day, said Jared Fiel, Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman.
Fiel told the Post:
“When we’re talking about adding that many more people to the roads, it’s going to be intimidating. We are fully planning for it be pretty bad. … we really don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Fiel expects the region’s cell phone towers to be completely swamped by eclipse traffic and even suggests that travelers carry along walkie talkies.
You can read the totality of CDOT’s total eclipse advisory here.
Those phones won’t be handling just phone calls and texts but the umpteen hundreds of thousand of snapshots people take during the event. AT&T will deploy two mobile cell towers: at the Glendo Reservoir near Casper and in western Wyoming at the Teton County Fairgrounds in Jackson.
Suggestions for Colorado’s Eclipse Travelers
Xandra McMahon of Colorado Public Radio recommends that eclipse travelers make a number of plans, keep their options open, and bring a survival kit for comfort. Because roads will be packed, drivers should expect their travel times to be twice the norm.
She recommends Wheatland, Wyoming, normally 2 hours, 42 minutes north of Denver on I-25. Drawback: only 51 seconds of complete blackout.
Next, consider Scottsbluff, Nebraska, normally 3 hours, 17 minutes away on I-76. Next, Glendo State Park, Glendo, Wyoming, which is normally a 3-hour, 13-minute trip north on I-25. If you’re sightseeing, you might try Alliance, Nebraska, home of “Carhenge” the impressive monument of cars stuck into the ground like the stones of England’s Stonehenge. The trip to Alliance normally takes 4 hours and 4 minutes on I-76 E.
Or, you can stay in Colorado, where viewers can still glimpse the eclipse, but to a diminished effect, McMahon says. In Denver, you’ll catch a 92 percent blockage of the sun. But even viewing the eclipse at 99 percent coverage is nowhere near the experience of 100 percent.
Less than best isn’t stopping Coloradans from planning a good time, McMahon says.
The Space Foundation Discovery Center in Colorado Springs will have an eclipse party from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults.
Walking Mountains Science Center, near Vail, will have a free viewing event from 10 a.m. to noon at the Westin Riverfront & Spa at Beaver Creek Mountain.
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science will have a solar-scope viewing and other events from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. General admission for adults is $16.95.
Check out local libraries everywhere for eclipse events.
Disruption of Routine Traffic Expected
Even if you decide to do nothing special, stay off of the road during the peak times. A solar eclipse creates a perfect set of conditions for distracted driving and auto accidents. The daylight darkens, and drivers, like everybody else, won’t resist glancing at the spectacle above.