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Eclipse traffic could create year’s biggest traffic jam on Colorado highways, CDOT warns

Author: Ernest Luning - August 21, 2017 - Updated: August 21, 2017

NASA-Solar-Eclipse.jpg
This illustration depicts a rare alignment of the Sun and Moon casting a shadow on Earth.(Courtesy NASA)
This illustration depicts a rare alignment of the Sun and Moon casting a shadow on Earth.(Courtesy NASA)

Picture six Broncos games getting out at the same time on the same stretch of road. That’s what traffic generated by Monday’s total eclipse of the sun — a once-in-a-century event in these parts — could amount to, the Colorado Department of Transportation is warning state motorists. And for those stuck in traffic between Friday and Monday, AAA Colorado has some tips and a musical playlist guaranteed to brighten even the darkest day.

“This has the potential to be a major traffic event — both given the heavy traffic volume as well as disruptions due to the eclipse,” said CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt in a statement. “We are asking the driving public to plan ahead, be safe and be patient.”

Authorities anticipate that hundreds of thousands of motorists will be flocking from Colorado to regions of Wyoming and Nebraska where the total solar eclipse will be visible — maps depicting what astronomers call “totality” can be viewed here — and are taking precautions to minimize disruption and difficulty for drivers.

CDOT announced this week that oversized and overweight vehicles won’t be allowed through Wednesday, Aug. 23, on state highways north of Colorado Highway 50, which starts in Montrose and crosses the southern part of the state through Cañon City, Pueblo and Lamar. In addition, CDOT is suspending construction on all road projects from Friday afternoon until Tuesday morning and boosting the number of Courtesy Patrol vehicles on north Interstate 25.

Experts anticipate as many as 600,000 extra people packing into a narrow slice of Wyoming — doubling the state’s population — to view the eclipse, and a good share of them will be driving north on Colorado roads. Traffic is supposed to be heavy starting Friday and continuing through the weekend and then explode on Monday after the sun reappears as everyone returns home. (For those who won’t be venturing into the pathway of totality, NASA will be covering the eclipse.)

AAA Colorado is predicting what it terms “record-shattering” traffic this weekend, potentially tripling travel times into and out of Wyoming and Nebraska. Eclipse-seekers have already reserved all the hotel rooms and campsites within range of the totality, the organization said in a release Thursday. The unprecedented crowds can overwhelm more than just the roadways, possibly straining cellular phone and data services, too, so AAA is urging motorists — even those who might get caught in eclipse traffic — to plan accordingly.

Among CDOT and AAA’s suggestions:

• Plan ahead, including places to refuel and don’t be surprised if gas prices are higher than normal.

• Bring paper maps to allow navigation even when GPS and cell service doesn’t work.

• Pack extra food and water, including at least a gallon jug and plenty of non-perishable meals and snacks to maintain strength in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

• Watch for pedestrians, particularly during the eclipse when people might be standing alongside or even in roadways.

• Don’t look at the eclipse without authentic eclipse glasses, but also don’t drive wearing eclipse glasses.

• Text “ECLIPSE” to 888777 to get current traffic, emergency and weather-related information texted to your phone, courtesy Larimer County — although don’t count on continuous cell service. In Colorado, check www.cotrip.org for real-time traffic updates, and visit www.wyoroad.info for Wyoming traffic information.

With all that time behind the wheel, drivers might also want to check out AAA Colorado’s “Drive Me to the Moon” 2017 Eclipse road-trip playlist, which includes 42 songs and clocks in at three hours.

Filled with songs about the sun, moon, the universe and eclipses, automobile association spokesman Skyler McKinley promises the playlist will be so enjoyable that listeners won’t mind being stuck in traffic. It’s available on YouTube and on Spotify, and a full roster can be found here.

Songs on the playlist include “Fly Me to the Moon” by Bobby Womack, “Dark Star” by Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Here Comes the Sun” by Richie Havens, and “Let the Sunshine In” by the Fifth Dimension, as well as plenty of more obscure and less on-the-nose titles.

Oddly, however, the playlist doesn’t include Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” The 1983 hit has virtually been proclaimed the official anthem of Monday’s total solar eclipse, as Tyler plans to perform the song during the eclipse aboard Royal Caribbean’s Total Eclipse Cruise — somewhere in the Caribbean — Time reported.

“I don’t know that a person enjoys ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ so much as submits to it,” Amanda Petrusich writes in the New Yorker in an appreciation of sorts of the “booming, volcanic pop song.”

But McKinley said he omitted the song from the playlist on purpose.

“I didn’t include ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ because I have literally never heard that song except while waiting in line at the deli at Albertson’s,” he told Colorado Politics. “Angry customers, glaring fluorescent lights and Bonnie Tyler crackling through the speakers. That song is nothing more than Muzak for life’s bleakest moments.”

For those who disagree — the song’s more than 300 million YouTube views suggest McKinley doesn’t speak for everyone —  here’s Tyler’s official music video:

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.