The US has solar-eclipse fever. One side effect: epic traffic jams.
Airfares have surged to cities near the path of the Aug. 21 event, the first total solar eclipse visible coast-to-coast in the US since 1918. Hotels in the so-called “path of totality” have sold out as travelers rush to see this most-fleeting of tourist attractions. The longest the sun will be completely blocked by the moon at any point along the path is under three minutes, according to NASA.
Some 200 million people live within a day’s drive of the eclipse’s path, so state governments, trade groups, and trucking companies are scrambling to prevent drivers from getting caught in what’s expected to be some of the worst roadway congestion ever. Oregon’s Department of Transportation said the eclipse will cause “the biggest traffic event in Oregon history” as visitors descend on the state in cars and camper vans. Transportation officials in Georgia warned people to make sure they have enough gasoline, especially if they’re traveling to the northern part of the state, which will have a good view of the eclipse, so that no one becomes an “eclipse refugee.” Tennessee’s transportation department warned that it is prohibited to stop on interstates to watch the eclipse, especially in emergency lanes.
While many eclipse-chasers will find this rare wonder worth the time and expense, it’s a headache for the truck drivers who depend on these major highways to transport everything from berries to copper tubes. Some states, including Oregon, Wyoming, and Idaho are recommending that trucks carrying extra-wide and heavy loads be rescheduled or are prohibiting them altogether, according to industry website Transport Topics. The Idaho Trucking Association said trucks carrying large loads will be prohibited from traveling after 4 p.m. on Aug. 20 to sunrise on Aug. 22, the publication reported.
David House, an Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman told Transport Topics: “We can’t suddenly double our highway capacity.”