DENVER – The Colorado State Patrol says the surge of eclipse-related traffic that is expected to crowd Colorado highways and cause delays in the days leading up to the event will be a substantial challenge, but the agency says it’s up to the test.
In the coming weekend, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to travel through or from Colorado to neighboring states as they make their way into the path of totality for Monday’s solar eclipse. Interstate 25 North will be the hardest hit, but the Denver metro area will also see a major spike in traffic, according to the CSP.
Colorado State Patrol Major Tim Keeton held a briefing Wednesday to explain how the agency will be handling the influx of travelers into the state and also share some important safety tips. He said among some of his biggest concerns are cell phone communications and the risk of wildfires.
Major Keeton said the CSP would beef up its staff the days prior to and after the event. Troopers and emergency personnel will be pre-staged along several routes, including I-25, to reduce response time in the event of an accident. Additional courtesy patrol officers will also be on hand.
Troopers will also be patrolling the traffic from the sky. Major Keeton said an aircraft would be deployed in the area to help identify trouble spots and communicate that information back to CSP headquarters.
Additionally, the Colorado Department of Transportation will be suspending construction on all projects from Friday afternoon to Tuesday morning to make things easier on drivers. CDOT will also be partnering with the CSP and the Wyoming Department of Transportation to monitor and respond to traffic issues.
While troopers and other state agencies increase resources and patrols to keep Colorado's highways safe, Major Keeton said that motorists have a duty as well.
"If you have ever driven on I-25, you know that it's fairly close to capacity along the Front Range right now," said Major Keeton. "We also know what happens when we have a crash on I-25 -- it affects everybody in the system."
He highlighted the danger of distracted driving during Wednesday's briefing and stressed the importance of keeping your eyes on the road as drivers will likely encounter stop-and-go traffic on I-25 throughout the coming days.
Another issue troopers will be looking for are stalled vehicles. Keeton urged drivers to avoid stopping on the side of a highway to view the eclipse. He advised driving several feet from the roadway to avoid a possible collision.
Keeton also brought up the concern for fires during this time. He cautioned drivers to be aware of parking their hot cars on dry grass or brush. Another concern is negligently discarded cigarettes, which is one of the main causes of human-sparked wildfires.
The temporary spike in population in the region may also risk overloading cell phone communications, which Keeton says troopers and other emergency services rely on. He urged eclipse viewers to limit text messaging and voice calls during this time.
The state will also limit oversized truck loads for all roadways north of U.S. 50 the days leading up to the eclipse.
The eclipse is expected to be one of the largest traffic events in the state's history, and one that Keeton admits he has no recent precedent on which to compare to during his lengthy career with the department.
CDOT has provided the following additional safety reminders for drivers:
Pay attention, and don't drive distracted. Drive defensively because there will be more motorists on the road, and some of them may be slowing down, or may not be paying attention when the eclipse is occurring.
Ensure vehicles have plenty of fuel.
Don't stop and pull off onto the side of the roads.
Don't use the center median crossings on the interstates for turning around or parking. Those crossings are for authorized vehicles. Emergency vehicles need to keep these areas clear for response to emergency situations.
Don't park on any highway shoulder or in any ditch area. That can be dangerous for you and other drivers, and a person's car exhaust could start a grass fire.
Plan ahead and move to a safe and legal area prior to the eclipse so you can enjoy the experience.
Use eclipse glasses to safely view the eclipse. These glasses provide eye protection from the eclipse.
Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and snacks. It is unknown how busy traffic will be, but with hotels and campsites sold out, we are expecting large amounts of traffic surrounding this momentous event. This is also the first day for Colorado State University students and freshman orientation for Colorado University.