It’s been almost a century since a total solar eclipse swept the whole width of the United States, so it’s easy to understand what all the excitement is about.
But as with every big event, there are, well … traffic impacts. Not just from visitors swarming to cities where there will be full darkness, but from regular old commuters who might be startled when the sky begins to grow unexpectedly dark.
Monday’s eclipse, set to begin near Lincoln City, Ore., around 10:15 a.m. Pacific time, is expected to move through the D.C. region at just after 1 p.m. Eastern time. In the nation’s capital, there won’t be full darkness when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, but you will witness a notable darkening during the crossing.
This is why state departments of transportation here and across the country are on high alert — bringing on additional personnel to manage traffic around areas that expect large numbers of visitors and, in some cases, even calling in the National Guard.
The federal government is also doing its part to keep roads as clear as possible. As Terena Bell reports: “The Federal Highway Administration has asked states to suspend all road construction Monday to ease the flow of traffic. FHWA also is changing interstate dynamic message boards nationwide: A total solar eclipse is coming. The sky will get dark. The sun will appear to go away in the middle of the day. Do not slam on your brakes. Do not be afraid.”
Even the smallest change in normal commuting can cause traffic issues. Transportation officials, including the folks with the Maryland Transportation Authority, and AAA Mid-Atlantic are offering these tips on how to avoid trouble if you’re on the road during the eclipse:
- Don’t stop along the interstate or park on the shoulder during the event.
- Exit the highway to a safe location to view and/or photograph the eclipse.
- Don’t take photographs while driving — keep your attention on the road ahead.
- Don’t try to wear opaque eclipse glasses while operating a vehicle.
- Turn your headlights on — do not rely on your automatic headlights when the eclipse blocks out the sun.
- Use extra caution if your travels take you through a work zone during the eclipse.
- Watch out for pedestrians and bicyclists. People may be randomly parking and walking alongside the roadside during the time of the eclipse to get a good view.
- Prepare for extra congestion, especially on the interstates the day before, day of and day after the eclipse.
- Avoid travel during the eclipse or in an area with expected eclipse viewers.
John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs, also advises bringing along an emergency kit.
Some other tips from AAA Mid-Atlantic if you are headed to eclipse viewing areas:
- Expect heavy traffic in the days leading up to and after the eclipse. If you’re driving to your eclipse viewing destination, leave a day or two early and plan to come home a day or two after the eclipse. Hotels and campsites have been booked for months, if not years, but you may be able to stay with a friend or find a place to park a trailer or RV.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full. Smaller communities could experience fuel and/or food shortages. You don’t want to be running on empty if you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic because you’ll probably run out of gas. Don’t carry extra gasoline — it’s flammable and could explode. It can also emit dangerous fumes. And with the surge in demand for gasoline and diesel, expect pump prices to climb before and after the eclipse. AAA’s mobile app can help you find the cheapest gas in your area.
- Pack water and nonperishable food for all passengers and pets. Bring enough such supplies to last at least a couple days because emergency responders are all concerned about being able to respond quickly to those who need help.
- Don’t leave home without an emergency kit in your car. Besides food and water, bring your mobile phone and charger (there are several hand-crank chargers available that don’t rely on your car’s battery), flashlight with extra batteries, first-aid kit, a basic tool kit with tire pressure gauge and adjustable wrench, windshield washer solution, jumper cables and emergency flares or reflectors. Carrying the basics will help if you encounter trouble. Being able to jump start a dead battery or treat a passenger with a minor cut or scrape will provide peace of mind.
- If you’re stuck in traffic during the eclipse, don’t pull over to watch. It’s against the law to stop or park on the shoulder of interstates and highways.