State monitors traffic trouble spots, 600+ events amid countdown to eclipse
Travelers getting in place for the Monday morning eclipse are already creating some big traffic backups.
But state authorities at Oregon's Emergency Coordination Center in Salem said Thursday that there are signs people are following directions.
Officials have repeatedly told travelers heading to the eclipse's path of totality in Central Oregon to arrive early at their destinations, stay put and leave later.
And they said so far it appears several people are at least trying to follow the 'arrive early' part of that request.
Still, a map at the Emergency Coordination Center shows there are more than 600 eclipse-related events throughout the state that are either ongoing or set to start this weekend. They're each represented by purple markers on the map. The larger the event in terms of its anticipated attendance numbers, the larger the marker.
Aerial photos from Oregon's Department of Transportation (ODOT) showed a 15-mile backup on Highway 26 near Prineville on Thursday, a traffic jam that had entered its second day.
Jennifer Smith, of Prineville, shot cell phone video of the backup on Wednesday around noon.
"We were just surprised at how packed town was and just how much traffic was backed up," Smith told KATU. "When I left for lunch I was headed east and it took me about 25 minutes to go a mile."
Dave Thompson, a spokesperson for ODOT, said drivers are heading to Symbiosis Gathering, a music festival and eclipse viewing event, about 40 miles east of Prineville at Big Summit Prairie.
Around 30 thousand people are expected at the gathering, which is sold out.
"We've worked with the event to try to speed up the process of getting into the area where they're leading people to park," Thompson said. "We've also created an alternate route around that long backup on 26 to get people up to the event on yet another road."
As of Thursday afternoon, Thompson said that wasn't the only trouble spot.
"We're having just a tiny bit of trouble right this minute because of extra congestion just south of Lincoln City on the way to Newport," Thompson explained, "and we expect that sort of traffic to probably increase."
Vicky Ryan, the emergency preparedness coordinator for Crook County, told KATU tanker trucks were refueling gas stations in and around Prineville and that there was no word of drivers being unable to get fuel.
Ryan also said grocery stores stocked up and delivery trucks are able to get in.
The Oregonian reported that one gas station ran out of regular unleaded Thursday but had re-stocked within a few hours.
Thompson said he hopes travelers will remember to stay late at their destinations so everyone doesn't leave at once.
"You can hang out in a nice spot where you can walk around and find a bathroom," Thompson said, "or you can hang out in a long line of cars on the highway. Your choice."
In Prineville, city officials said they reset traffic lights to favor east-west traffic so it flows more smoothly.
But there were still reports of extremely long wait times to get into the Symbiosis Gathering event.