Tens of thousands of people likely started planning a year in advance to observe the eclipse in Oregon on August 21. (Totality will begin across North America in the Beaver State at 10:16 a.m. in Newport.)
State agencies have been planning for just as long to prepare for the eclipse chasers. They're expected to number as many as one million inside the path of totality, which runs from the coast, through Salem, Madras and John Day.
That one million isn't "necessarily all visitors from out of state," said David Thompson, public affairs manager at the Oregon Department of Transportation. "That might mean residents from Portland driving down to Salem or coming up from Roseburg."
Thompson said state transportation officials aren't as worried about traffic from people who have planned to stay within this swath of the state for a three- or four-day weekend.
Going to school or work on August 21?
To help keep cars off the road, consider:
–Working from home.
"What we're really concerned about is what appears to be a large group of people who are planning to arrive that Monday," Thompson said.
If you're planning to travel to see the total eclipse Monday morning, then you may be underestimating the traffic in which you will get stuck.
"That swell of cars, that wave, just slows down the highway," Thompson said. "We are quite concerned, I would say, afraid that a lot of people are treating this three-hour event like a football game day – except that there's going to be thousands and thousands and thousands of more travelers on the road."
Thompson urges residents and visitors to explore different travel options on Monday.
"This is a good day to be thinking of carpooling," said Thompson. "This takes a great deal of cooperation from drivers. We've always said that travelers have a shared responsibility to keep safe on the road."
The message ODOT has been sharing for those making a trek is to, "Arrive early. Stay put. Leave late."
Consider biking, or booking a round-trip ticket on a bus or train. Amtrak and Greyhound tickets for Monday morning are already sold out, but tickets are still available for those planning to arrive before Monday.
Your best bet is to stay with friends at this point, because hotels and campsites are nearly booked.
You should still consider carpooling, whether you're going to school or to work.
"This is a good day to think of telecommuting, working from home, changing your hours," Thompson added. "Of course, to do that, the employer and employee need to sit down and talk over options way earlier than on August 21."
If working from home isn't possible, consider biking, walking or taking transit to work.
Consider rescheduling home deliveries.
The hotels, restaurants and coffee shops should also schedule deliveries ahead of August 21 to have more inventory in stock than they normally do. Thompson expects that Monday to be one of the busiest days of the year for the service industry.
Why planning ahead matters
Taking these steps will help keep cars off the road. Traffic will likely start to get thick the Friday before the total eclipse.
Thompson said traffic will affect every single highway, most of which are two-lane highways that don’t have the capacity to handle 50,000 additional cars.
Making trek to see eclipse?
To help keep cars off the road, arrive early and consider:
–Carpooling with family and friends.
–Booking a round-trip bus or train ticket (tickets for the morning of August 21 are sold out).
“I don't care about the cars,” Thompson said. “I care about the people who are not only inconvenienced [by traffic], but [who] may be suffering health issues during that backup.”
Traffic won’t be the only issues travelers will have to consider.
Thompson urges residents and visitors to be well prepared with sun protection and drinking water to prevent heat strokes or heat exhaustion, or really bad sun burns.
August is fire season. That’s on the mind of state officials, too. It will be more difficult for first responders to move through traffic on highways.
“So we're quite worried about the health effects on people who are in that traffic,” Thompson said. “This is all about our concerns for your and other travelers' safety.”
For more than a year, ODOT has worked closely with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, the Oregon Health Authority, the Oregon State Police, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
For its part, ODOT will have maintenance crews in yellow pickups stationed on highways throughout the state to help anyone who needs help while stuck in traffic.
“Our objective is to keep people safe,” Thompson said. People should enjoy this “once-in-a-generation” phenomenon, and planning ahead can help make that happen.
Read tips from the Oregon Department of Transportation on how to plan a safe trip to view the eclipse.
Read safety information from the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal.
Visit NASA's eclipse page to learn more about the celestial phenemenon.