On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the United States, offering a spectacular celestial show that hasn’t been seen from coast to coast in years. As thrilling as this event promises to be, travelers planning to witness it should prepare for significant impacts on traffic throughout the eclipse’s path. Drawing on insights from the Transportation Research Board, University of Maryland’s CATT Lab and INRIX’s analysis on solar eclipse traffic management, here are the top 5 things travelers should expect regarding traffic during this astronomical event.

2017 & 2024 Paths of Totality from science.nasa.gov

  1. Unprecedented Traffic Volume Increases

Historical data and forecasts suggest that traffic volume will see unprecedented increases in areas within the path of totality. Regions that typically experience moderate traffic might face congestion levels comparable to major city rush hours. The influx of both local and international visitors aiming to catch a glimpse of the eclipse will significantly strain road networks, especially on highways and rural roads leading to prime viewing locations.

Some have said this could be like “20 or 30 Super Bowls all at once” in terms of impact to the road network.

  1. Traffic Pattern Shifts

Unlike typical traffic patterns dictated by work commutes or seasonal travel, eclipse-induced traffic will hinge on the movement of the moon’s shadow. As such, expect unusual traffic flow directions, with significant surges occurring in the days leading up to April 8th and immediately following the eclipse. Major roads and highways may experience directional shifts in heavy traffic, particularly as visitors depart from eclipse viewing areas. Authorities might implement temporary traffic measures to manage these shifts effectively.

INRIX and CATT Lab found that following 2017’s eclipse, major interstates saw severe traffic jams between 4pm – 9pm, along with long queues/backups of vehicles – some as long as 16 miles long. In addition, 4 out of the 5 longest-lasting traffic bottlenecks occurred on rural roads.

Watch how INRIX participated with other state and local officials to plan ahead for the 2024 eclipse by using data and analytics, here:

  1. Enhanced Road Safety Measures

In anticipation of the increased traffic volume and the unique distractions posed by the eclipse, enhanced road safety measures will be in place. Studies have shown that traffic crash risk increased 31% during the 2017 eclipse period, spurring authorities to increase patrols and set up informational signage to guide travelers safely to their destinations. Speed limits may be temporarily reduced in high-congestion areas to mitigate the risk of accidents. Travelers should remain alert, adhere to posted signs and guidelines, and be prepared for sudden stops in traffic, especially during the eclipse when drivers and pedestrians may be distracted.

  1. Big Impact on Local Communities and Infrastructure

Communities within the path of totality will experience significant impacts on their local infrastructure. With the sudden surge in population, travelers can expect longer wait times at restaurants, gas stations, and restrooms. Local authorities may set up temporary facilities to accommodate the needs of eclipse watchers, but travelers should plan ahead by bringing sufficient supplies, including water, snacks, and fuel.

  1. Increased Communication and Information Resources

To navigate the challenges of eclipse travel, staying informed through reliable communication channels will be crucial. State and local transportation departments, along with traffic management organizations, will provide real-time updates on traffic conditions, road closures, and safety tips. Additionally, during the 2017 eclipse, transport officials restricted highway work to avoid lane closures and maintenance crews boosted patrols to provide stranded drivers assistance in finding a tow truck or fixing a flat tire to reduce delays. Travelers should utilize these resources for planning their journeys and making informed decisions on the road.

In conclusion, while the 2024 solar eclipse presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many, it also poses unique challenges for travelers. By anticipating increased traffic volumes, understanding the potential for unusual traffic patterns, adhering to enhanced safety measures, considering the impact on local infrastructures, and staying well-informed, eclipse chasers can ensure a memorable and safe experience.