Local public safety and emergency management agencies are working together to ensure a smooth flow of motor vehicle traffic for the upcoming total solar eclipse.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has taken to its web page to direct advice toward drivers, with the expectation of an additional 1.2 million people visiting the state starting Friday, Aug. 18, and most likely leaving by Tuesday, Aug. 22. Some estimates have likened their predictions of the spectating crowd to that seen for 2015 parade held for the World Series champion Kansas City Royals, when the count was placed as high as 800,000.
MoDOT suggests eclipse watchers leave early to reach their viewing locations, to stay put once they arrive there and to depart at a later time once the event concludes to avoid heavy congestion on the roads.
Motorists are being told to expect heavy traffic on interstates and all roads inside the area of the total eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21. Heavy congestion is expected once the eclipse passes in the afternoon.
Drivers should not stop along interstates and refrain from parking along highway shoulders to watch the eclipse, with use of exits encouraged for viewing and taking photographs. Headlights should be used.
Special eclipse glasses should not be worn while driving, and travel during the event itself or in the area of the main path is discouraged.
Drivers involved in minor crashes are asked to exit the highway to exchange insurance information, according to state law. Motorists should watch for extra pedestrians along smaller roads, as viewers may be randomly parking and walking alongside in the hour prior to the eclipse to obtain optimal viewing spots.
Jose Rodriguez, senior traffic engineer for MoDOT’s Northwest District office, said meetings are being held to coordinate response to the influx.
“We’re planning on posting employees at major intersections here in town” such as the Belt Highway and Frederick Boulevard, he said.
Rodriguez said other staff will be placed at locations in Cameron, Lathrop, Carrollton and perhaps Chillicothe, all areas expected to see heavy traffic. The intersection of U.S. Highway 36 and Interstate 35 in Cameron also will be monitored.
“That will be a big spot,” Rodriguez said.
Highway officials will be coordinating with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Buchanan County sheriff’s and emergency management personnel, the city of St. Joseph and the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department. Meetings began last October and have continued monthly with updates.
“We have some backup plans in case of congestion and to direct (motorists) to different routes,” Rodriguez said when asked whether detours are being conceived. “We’ve got some tweaks here and there.”
The committee also has mulled the possibility of compiling traffic numbers in cities such as Cameron and Lathrop.
All major highway projects will be shut down, with the same consideration a potential even for minor road work. Some MoDOT maintenance crews will be on call.
“We’re just kind of planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” Rodriguez said.
Jada Thomas, emergency manager for the city of St. Joseph, said there are no plans at present to close any streets or roads or re-direct traffic along any particular path.
Extra police will be assigned to duties such as traffic control, Thomas said. The areas of Interstate 29 and Frederick and Frederick and Woodbine Road will receive attention to ensure traffic movement.
Bill Brinton, Buchanan County’s emergency management coordinator, said as many staff members as possible will work during the eclipse.
Capt. Tiger Parsons, who leads the patrol division for the sheriff’s department, said more personnel than usual will be on duty to maintain the traffic flow. That contingent will total about 50 persons, deputies and reserve road officers included.
“We have canceled days off,” he said.
Parsons said the sheriff’s office intends to ensure safety by discouraging eclipse watchers from parking on the side of the road, which he said is illegal in any circumstance. Tickets for violators will be issued on a discretionary basis.
Sgt. Jake Angle of the patrol’s Troop H said officers will be stationed at 20-mile intervals on both I-29 and I-35.
Check traffic conditions for Aug. 21 on MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map at www.traveler.modot.org/map/, which is also available as a free app at MoDOT Traveler Information.