Saturday, January 25, 2020
Jan. 25, 2020

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Eclipse traffic expected to clog highways

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Thinking of driving down to Oregon to see the eclipse next week?

Don’t.

Planning to commute to Portland for work like you would on any Monday morning?

You probably shouldn’t do that, either.

Oregon and Washington transportation agencies don’t know for sure what the roads will look like when an estimated 1 million people begin descending on Oregon to stand in the path of totality during the Aug. 21 eclipse, but they’re predicting it’s going to push highways to the max.

Traffic officials expect Friday, Saturday and Sunday to be like a busy holiday weekend, but the Aug. 21 travelers could make the commute in and out of Portland a nightmare for the nearly 65,000 Clark County residents who work in the city.

“Monday, Aug. 21, is going to be a different commuting day for people in Vancouver,” said Washington Department of Transportation spokesman Bart Treece, adding that people should consider working from home, telecommuting or just taking the day off all together.

KPTV reported Tuesday that more than 17,000 cars — the amount rented in a typical week — are set to be rented out of Portland International Airport over a three-day period around the eclipse.

Lined up end-to-end, as they may well be on eclipse day, that many cars would stretch 43.46 miles. And those are just the rentals.

WSDOT officials reported many hotels in Vancouver are expected to be at 100 percent capacity the weekend before the event, and at about 80 percent capacity on the day of the eclipse.

Amtrak added an extra train for the eclipse that will stop in Salem, Ore., but it and the three regular southbound trains are sold-out for the day of the eclipse, said Janet Matkin, spokeswoman for WSDOT’s rail division.

“That commute could be something else, indeed,” Dave Thompson, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation said. “If people leave Seattle at 5 a.m. they’re going to run into the traffic that left before them from Tacoma, Olympia and Chehalis. Then they’ll all run into the urban traffic of Vancouver and Portland, and they’re all aiming to get off Interstate 5 at Salem. And I sincerely doubt they’ll reach Salem.”

Anyone thinking of driving down for the eclipse should be prepared as if they were going to drive in a winter storm and possibly be stranded on the highway for hours at a time — especially if they’re thinking of driving in or out of Oregon Aug. 21.

Both ODOT and WSDOT will have their emergency operations centers activated, have extra incident response trucks out on the roads and extra staff on hand to keep things flowing as well as they can, but traffic could be working against them.

“This isn’t about a traffic jam — a traffic jam for a couple hours is an inconvenience. When it lasts a long time, it becomes an increased risk factor for health issues — people have to pee, they forget medications or in high temperatures people might run out of gas on the highway and be at risk for heat stroke.”

To give the drivers enough time to work through the system, ODOT is telling drivers to arrive early, stay put and leave late.

“Seeing an eclipse is supposed to be a good time, if you don’t plan for this, you won’t have a good time,” Thompson said. “You won’t have a good time if you’re stuck in traffic for 12 hours.”

Thompson is urging drivers to use Tripcheck.com, a speed map of all of Oregon. He stresses the importance of knowing what road conditions are and planning accordingly.

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