Partial eclipse could cause complete mess for Washington traffic

SEATTLE – Total eclipse equals total traffic disaster. Partial eclipse? Could still be a complete mess.

The Washington State Department of Transportation said Tuesday that the solar eclipse Aug. 21, which is expected to cause "the biggest traffic event in Oregon history” as people flock to the path of totality in the center of the state, could cause a mess in Washington, as well as drivers, flock south to get closer to the action.

“We expect traffic congestion as people make their way down to Oregon, and especially as they make their way back,” WSDOT spokesperson Barbara LaBoe said. “It happens Monday, and there’s a concern that the bulk of people are going to drive down and come back on Monday.”

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ODOT officials have estimated there will be a million people from out of state on Oregon’s roads the day of the eclipse, many of whom will be driving RVs and many of whom will be coming from Washington and Oregon.

“Plan ahead, LaBoe said. “Don’t expect to be able to get up early Monday morning and drive down to Oregon.  There’s going to be lots of traffic, and you may not make it.”

Though Washington won’t get the full effect of the eclipse, we will get a very good partial view.

WSDOT said there are two big things to remember when the eclipse is taking place.

First, don’t pull over to watch: “Don’t stop on the roadway, and don’t stop on the side of the road to view it,” LaBoe said. “It blocks emergency vehicles, and in dry areas if you’re pulled over, your catalytic converter could spark a wildfire.”

Second, don’t wear your special eclipse sunglasses while you’re driving: “We’re afraid people won’t know, so they might be extra cautious and put them on,” LaBoe said. “But they’re not made for driving. If you’re just driving during the partial eclipse, as long as you’re not looking directly at it, you don’t need special eye gear.”

What you will want to do is be prepared. Make sure to bring enough food and water for a much longer car trip than you might expect, and expect that as you get closer to the path of totality, stores might be out of gas or supplies altogether – particularly in rural areas in Eastern Oregon and Washington.

Also, if you don’t know where you’re going, don’t assume you can count on using mapping apps on your phone.

“Print out a paper map,” LaBoe said. “It’s possible cell service in rural areas could get overwhelmed and divert you to somewhere you’re not familiar with. It’s also possible that apps will overwhelm rural roads that weren’t designed to handle massive amounts of traffic.”

WSDOT isn’t planning to suspend any construction projects surrounding the eclipse but will be working closely with WSP for the duration. LaBoe cautioned that any accidents the day of could make things much worse, and said even people who aren’t heading south should expect their morning and evening commute times to be worse than normal.

“It’s hard to quantify (how bad it’s going to be) because nobody really has an accurate range,” she said. ”You don’t have to register to go to the eclipse.”