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If you plan to drive to Oregon to see the eclipse, here’s your survival guide

What you need to know about August's solar eclipse

The U.S. is in for a rare astronomical treat on August 21, 2017 — that's the day of the "Great American Eclipse." It's the first total solar eclipse to cross the entire U.S. in 99 years, and more than 12 million Americans live in its path.
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The U.S. is in for a rare astronomical treat on August 21, 2017 — that's the day of the "Great American Eclipse." It's the first total solar eclipse to cross the entire U.S. in 99 years, and more than 12 million Americans live in its path.

Excited about seeing the eclipse on Aug. 21?

Join the millions who share that feeling.

And if you’re planning a road trip to Oregon to see the eclipse at its grandest, expect to share the highways — and restrooms and grocery stores —with them too.

With that in mind, Washington and Oregon travel experts and emergency workers have some travel advice. Remember, they’ve had some time to think about this.

For starters, this will not be a scene for people who hate crowds, who don’t prepare and who take chances on running out of gas before the next stop.

“Emergency managers are planning for an influx of about 1 million visitors into Oregon for several days on either side of the eclipse,” the Oregon Office of Emergency Management says on its website.

“Carry water, any meds you need, and an emergency/disaster kit in your car. You should expect to wait in long lines to refill your gas tank.”

THE DRIVE

Oregon’s Department of Transportation is ready for the state’s day in the sun but wants you to realize what you are driving into.

“If the rough risk estimates are correct and we have 1 million people inside Oregon’s path of totality for the eclipse, then Oregon will experience the largest traffic event in our history,” Dave Thompson, the department’s public affairs manager, wrote The News Tribune via email in response to questions.

His advice to Tacomans traveling to his state:

“Treat this three-hour event like a three-day event, or you won’t get here in time.”

Thompson wouldn’t guess as to how long it will take to get back to Tacoma on the day of the eclipse, so don’t plan on making a quick getaway if driving.

“We’ve heard talk that people from Washington plan to drive down early Monday morning ... then turn around and head home — about noon or so.”

He advises against that.

“You may not make it into the path, there won’t be any place to park, you might risk your life if you just pull over on the highway and get out to view the eclipse, and you’ll join tens of thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of other travelers when you turn around and try to head back north on Interstate 5 or U.S. 395 or any Oregon highway.”

“Not even Seattle has seen that traffic jam,” he added for emphasis.

And if you think you’ll just drive as close as you can and then pull over on I-5 to experience the eclipse, the Washington State Patrol isn’t OK with that:

“No pulling to the shoulder,” spokeswoman Brooke Bova said. “The shoulder should be utilized only for emergencies, or for disabled vehicles to move safely off the roadway while they wait for assistance.

“Also, we have had vehicles on the shoulder involved in serious collisions.”

Bova suggested finding a parking lot safely off the road if you want to be close but don’t want to drive into the path of totality in Oregon.

Washington state Department of Transportation also warns against pulling into fields or onto grass next to a roadway, potentially sparking a wildfire from the heat of your vehicle’s engine.

And, no car camping is not allowed at rest stops during this time, or ever.

“Eclipse travelers should not plan on using rest areas as camping sites, and should instead investigate nearby campgrounds or other options,” WSDOT said.

If you don’t want to drive and are looking to taking the train instead, don’t doddle getting your tickets.

Amtrak on Tuesday showed limited availability on the Coast Starlight traveling from Tacoma to Oregon with stops in the eclipse zone in the days leading up to Aug. 21. It might be sold out by the time you check the site.

THE CROWDS

The Oregon tourism commission reminds tourists on its website that many smaller communities in the path of the eclipse have only one road leading in and out.

“Our infrastructure obviously isn’t changing for this one event,” replied Kara Kuh, public relations manager for Travel Salem, via email. “We only have so many parking structures, and most roads in our area are two-lane highways since we’re a somewhat rural area.

“People should expect delays, traffic congestion and waiting in line for bathrooms, restaurants, etc.”

So, instead of the usual know-before-you-go slogan, this time around it’s “GO before you go.” Taking breaks, and getting back on the road could be a time-consuming affair with all the traffic.

Smaller Oregon towns in the path of totality are braced for traffic levels reminiscent of that great August traffic jam that happened on the other coast in 1969.

 ‘Woodstock level’ is what we are hearing predicted by the Oregon Department of Transportation,” wrote Jimmie Lucht, executive director of the Albany Visitors Association, in response to questions from The News Tribune.

“The emergency services folks are staging folks at various locations around the county so they can be as close to possible to situations and as mobile as possible,” he wrote.

“We are hearing that grocery stores and restaurants may run out of food temporarily due to the number of people from outside the region that are expected to be here.”

You can sign up for text alerts from emergency medical services and the City of Albany by texting ORECLIPSE to 888-777.

“Come early, stay late and stay off of the roads as much as possible the day of the event,” he advised.

“Traveling from the Puget Sound area to Salem last minute and expecting to return on the same day is not really recommended, unless you’re willing to be on the road for 24 hours or more,” Kuh wrote.

THE MOOD

So with the sudden influx of humanity expected, what’s the mood in Albany?

“The folks here seem to be in two camps ... skeptical and anticipating,” Lucht wrote. “Skeptical because they don’t understand why people are traveling around the globe to see it become dark for slightly more than one minute.

“Those communities that are in the path of totality, as Albany is, have had their lodging properties completely booked for months or years in advance.”

If you want more on what the city is doing, go to its “Party in the Path” page at bit.ly/2uvwo47. It includes links to Salem’s visitor eclipse information, another town usually reached easily from the interstate.

“As far as preparations go, state and local agencies including Travel Salem, Chambers of Commerce ... have been holding regular meetings for more than a year to prepare as best we can for this event,” Kuh wrote.

Remember, it’s probably going to be a hot summer day in a traffic jam, somewhere between here and there. Hydration will be key and there could be long gas lines in some areas.

On the bright side, you can’t say Oregon doesn’t have a sense of humor about all of this. From the state’s office of emergency management’s online tips:

“Take the time in long lines to get to know Oregonians and other visitors via lively conversation.”

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell

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