The Washington State Department of Transportation will activate its emergency operations center on Monday morning in case solar eclipse traffic turns horrible. In Oregon, state and county emergency coordination centers were activated on Thursday.
Emergency managers have tried to anticipate everything that could go wrong on eclipse Monday. WSDOT spokeswoman Barbara LaBoe said remaining unknowns include whether clouds on the coast cause a last minute surge of eclipse viewers inland. And will eclipse chasers heed the advice to stay put a little while after the event?
"We think the biggest congestion problems may be Monday afternoon and evening because as we are already seeing people move down to the eclipse now, they are spacing out their travel out over the whole weekend,” LaBoe said. “But there is a possibility that many people once the eclipse is done will head home all on the same day."
The workers in the emergency operations center can't conjure up new highway lanes, so they'll focus on keeping the public informed. Oregon and Washington also have extra incident response truck drivers on standby.
"We expect this to be statewide traffic event," LaBoe said while surrounded by monitors and traffic camera screens in the EOC Friday. "Obviously Vancouver (Washington) is probably going to bear the brunt of it. We think a lot of people are going to head down I-5 and they're going to see a lot of that crossing into Portland."
"But a lot of the activity and viewing parties are in eastern Oregon. So we think people may head over I-90 or they may come down south and then head over SR 14 or one of those other routes,” LaBoe added. “So every region of the state could see eclipse traffic either getting to a remote area or trying to beat the traffic on the more known routes."
CJ Pierce, WSDOT emergency management planning section chief, said wildland fires could introduce further complications.
"We're thinking of anything that could escalate this and complicate it," Pierce said. "Again, we're not quite sure exactly what to expect. This is a very different event from anything routine that we see."
LaBoe ticked off a number of eclipse travel preparedness tips that bear repeating:
- Regular commuters and eclipse chasers should both give themselves extra travel time on Monday. If you can avoid travel on highways to and from the eclipse path on Monday, you should. This is likely to be the worst day for traffic during the eclipse travel period.
- Pack extra food, water and patience.
- Do not pull over onto the highway shoulder to watch the eclipse. Emergency vehicles may need to get around backups using the shoulder. Find a safe parking spot off the highway.
- Do not attempt to view the eclipse from a moving car. In the same vein, do not try to drive with eclipse viewing glasses on. You'll quickly realize they are far too dark to see where you are going.
- Bring paper maps if you don't know your route. GPS mapping that relies on cellular networks for data may be overloaded.