Eclipse Traffic: Managing Roadways During the 2017 Total Eclipse

Traffic Jam colorful Image

As we set our sights on the next grand celestial event, the Total Solar Eclipse of 2024, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is buzzing with anticipation. The lessons learned from the 2017 eclipse have given us a roadmap to create an unforgettable experience for locals and visitors alike.

Eclipse Traffic – Reflecting on 2017: Insights to Illuminate Our Path

The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse was a nationwide marvel, providing invaluable insights for future events. Key among these lessons was the importance of early and thorough preparation. Starting 18-20 months before the event allowed for detailed planning, ensuring that every aspect, from traffic management to public safety, was meticulously orchestrated.

Communication stood out as the cornerstone of effective management. Clear and consistent messaging across various platforms, including social media and electronic boards, informed the public about what to expect, how to prepare, and how to find alternative viewing sites and manage potential traffic delays.

Safety and traffic were paramount concerns, as was the need for flexible, real-time incident response. Deploying new technologies, such as real-time volume data and camera installations, was crucial in maintaining situational awareness and managing congestion.

Eclipse Traffic Key Takeaways from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT)

The key takeaways from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) regarding their experience with the solar eclipse include:

  • Traffic Management and Safety: ODOT focused on traffic safety, managing traffic flow, ensuring emergency vehicle access, and anticipating traffic bottlenecks.
  • Cross-Agency Coordination: ODOT worked with the Office of Emergency Management and key state agencies to plan and prepare for the event.
  • Comprehensive Planning: They brought together various divisions to form an Eclipse Working Group which was responsible for planning and response efforts.
  • Operational Preparedness: ODOT’s divisions, including Highway Maintenance and Operations, Traffic, Motor Carrier, and DMV, developed individual plans that were compiled into a statewide plan.
  • Early Engagement: ODOT began preparations nearly a year before the event, with regular working group planning meetings and distributing a comprehensive eclipse plan.
  • Communication Strategy: Messaging began 9 months before the eclipse, and efforts were made to align with the state’s tourism messaging while focusing on preparation and safety.
  • Adapting Messaging to Public Needs: They developed a strategy that was preparation-focused and positive, encapsulated in simple messages like “Arrive early; stay put; leave late.”
  • Expectation vs. Reality: ODOT noted that the actual arrival and departure patterns of visitors differed from their initial assumptions, with departures particularly congested immediately after the eclipse.
  • Importance of Local Coordination: Coordination with local emergency services and event planners was crucial, as was information sharing between parties.
  • Challenges with Event Planners: Some event planners struggled with fulfilling promises, such as managing traffic according to plans and providing correct directions to attendees.
  • Effective Messaging: The messaging campaign altered local habits and helped manage expectations and behavior during the event.
  • Handling Traffic on Two-Lane Highways: Two-lane highways with passing lanes posed major congestion points, highlighting the need for better traffic management strategies.
  • Utility of Pre-Stage Incident Response: Having response crews pre-staged allowed for quick incident resolution and the flexible deployment of resources like portable cameras and message boards.
  • Data for Situational Awareness: Real-time data from cameras and volume data were essential, especially for signal timing changes and asset placements. However, disseminating this data to the public effectively was a challenge they identified.
  • Suggestions for Improvement: ODOT suggested obtaining zip code data from event providers early in the planning process, closing passing lanes ahead of time, and improving the dissemination of travel time data to the public.

Read more about Oregon Department of TransportationNOCoE Virtual Peer Exchange – Solar Eclipse – Oregon Slides (Part 1).pdf and NOCoE Virtual Peer Exchange – Solar Eclipse – Oregon Slides (Part 2).pdf.

Eclipse Traffic – Key Takeaways from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT)

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) had several key takeaways from their experience with the 2017 solar eclipse:

  1. Preparations: IDOT made thorough preparations by attending meetings with local stakeholders and the Illinois Energy Management Agency. They also attended training on the agency’s software to manage operations during the eclipse better.
  2. Operations Staffing: Leave time for operations staff was limited to ensure adequate coverage during the event. Additionally, they limited lane closures on construction projects and turning movements on key routes to facilitate smoother traffic flow.
  3. During the Event: IDOT staff were embedded at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) Unified Area Command and Area Commands to provide on-the-ground support. Smart Message Boards with traffic detection were placed on I-57, and communications staff at the district level were expanded to handle increased demand.
  4. Lessons Learned: Post-event, IDOT learned to limit lane closures far before the eclipse path on major routes to mitigate traffic congestion. Collaboration with local law enforcement was crucial, especially since any stop sign or small community could back up traffic. They observed significant traffic backups but noted that accidents were not proportionally high.
  5. Continuity Concerns: A notable concern was that most of the staff involved in the 2017 eclipse would not be around for the next one, indicating the need for thorough documentation and knowledge transfer for future events​.

Read more about Illinois Department of Transportation NOCoE Virtual Peer Exchange – Solar Eclipse – Illinois Slides.pdf.

Eclipse Traffic – Key Takeaways from the Nebraska Department of Transportation

The Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) provided several key takeaways from their experience with the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse:

  • Early Case Building: NDOT highlighted the importance of building their case early in the planning stages to ensure thorough preparedness for the event.
  • Preparation for Extreme Scenarios: They emphasized the need to prepare for the worst, suggesting that traffic volume and timing should be significant considerations.
  • Effective Communication: Managing expectations was crucial, and communication was key. NDOT utilized public announcements, social media, electronic message boards, news media, and radio to inform about expectations, transportation options, alternative viewing sites, and potential traffic delays.
  • Strategic Messaging: They created a tagline or sound bite that encapsulated the event’s essence, indicating that even states not directly in the eclipse’s path could still be affected by traffic.
  • Key Routes and Expectations: Specific attention was given to managing traffic on major routes like US 77 – Homestead Expressway and I-80.
  • Early and Frequent Discussions: NDOT stressed early and frequent discussions as one of its three key points, indicating that constant dialogue was necessary for successful event management.
  • Building Trust: Establishing and maintaining trust among all stakeholders was another key point that NDOT found to be important.
  • Maintaining Flexibility: The ability to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances was essential for handling the event effectively.
  • Long-Term Planning: They recommended starting the planning process 18-20 months before the event to ensure all bases were covered​​.

Eclipse Traffic – Key Takeaways from The Wyoming Highway Patrol and Wyoming Transportation Department

The Wyoming Highway Patrol and Wyoming Transportation Department gleaned several key takeaways from their experience during the solar eclipse:

What Worked:

  • Use of Technology: The interactive travel map linked to webcams was beneficial in helping the public identify traffic congestion.
  • Radio System: The WyoLink radio system experienced some busy signals, but training and setting expectations helped manage this.
  • Cellular Service: Cellular service was primarily reliable, with AT&T and Verizon bringing in Cells on Wheels (COWs) to improve coverage.
  • Employee Training: Training was effective, especially in the field, with everyone prepared and maintaining a positive attitude.
  • Agency Leadership: Assigning lead agencies, such as Tourism and WOHS, proved effective.
  • Information Release: Releasing daily statistics on patrol dispatch call volume and traffic data was key, especially for media engagement, alongside the use of social media and Facebook Live.

What Didn’t Work:

  • Lack of Facilities: There was a need for portable toilets (port-a-potties).
  • Data Provision: There were complaints about insufficient real-time data, with suggestions to offer “Time to travel from point to point” information.
  • Construction Projects: It was noted that shutting down construction projects could have been limited to the event day instead of five days.
  • Movement Restrictions: Restricting oversized/overweight movements was not necessary for all three days around the event, and this caused confusion.
  • Satellite Phones: Satellite phones were difficult to use and were not considered valuable.
  • Traffic Counters: There was a need to update traffic counter equipment before the event and ensure everyone understood the data.

Moving Forward:

  • Partnerships: They built valuable partnerships that will assist with future large-scale events.
  • Agency Collaboration: Combined-agency news conferences, especially those led by the Governor’s Office, added value and organization.
  • System Confidence: There is now confidence in the WyoLink radio system, cellular infrastructure, and the ability to handle large-scale events.
  • Positive Experience: The overall experience was positive, with very few complaints and a lot of praise, suggesting successful event management​​.

Read more about the Wyoming Highway Patrol & Wyoming Transportation Department – Wyoming Highway Patrol & Wyoming Transportation Department Slides. Read more about the Wyoming Highway Patrol & Wyoming Transportation Department Solar Eclipse Coordination Plan.

Eclipse Traffic – The Tennessee Department of Transportation

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) had several key takeaways from its coordination plan for the 2017 Solar Eclipse:

  • Goal and Priorities: The primary goal was to support safety within eclipse viewing areas, encouraging advanced preparation for potential emergencies and making state emergency support resources available. The priorities were to address life safety needs, support local governments, ensure safe transportation system movement, and maintain coordination and communication among partners.
  • Threat Identification: The first step was to identify potential threats, with a focus on distinguishing between hazards (which are typically the threat itself) and special events (where the threat may not be immediately apparent).
  • Primary Threat: The primary threat identified was the potential for major disruptions and life-threatening accidents on the transportation system.
  • Associated Threats: Associated threats related to transportation included disrupted emergency vehicle responses, stranded motorists, and disrupted school transportation. Non-transportation-related threats included attacks at mass gatherings, communication disruptions, issues at mass gatherings (overdoses, fights, crowd control), sun blindness, heat exhaustion, non-transportation accidents requiring medical assistance, increased 911 calls from individuals unaware of the eclipse, boat and water accidents, airspace issues, and problems with solar energy devices.
  • Stakeholder Involvement: Identifying who needs to be involved was the second step, with a core state planning team established for eclipse safety and partnerships formed for eclipse safety.
  • Planning Considerations: They considered the timing of the eclipse and the increase in visitors and mass gatherings and identified primary concern factors for areas experiencing total versus partial eclipses, including the level of obscuration expected in different regions.
  • Transportation Choke Points: Recognizing potential transportation choke points was a part of the planning considerations.
  • Information Collection and Coordination: Essential Elements of Information (EEI) were established to support decision-making, including the status of eclipse timing, weather conditions, highway flow, accidents, stranded motorists, mass gathering events, emergency vehicle flow, lake and waterway incidents, local resource requests, and school transportation.
  • Deliverables: A coordination plan, an incident action plan, and a tabletop exercise were outlined as deliverables with specific due dates to ensure readiness for the event

Read more about the Tennessee Department of Transportation:NOCoE Virtual Peer Exchange – Solar Eclipse – Tennessee Slides (TDOT).pdf.

Managing Roadways – The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) derived key takeaways from the 2017 Solar Eclipse, which informed their coordination plan:

  • Supporting Safety: The primary goal was to support safety within eclipse viewing areas by preparing in advance for potential emergencies and making state resources available.
  • Life Safety and Support: Priorities included addressing life safety needs, supporting local governments with resources, ensuring safe movement along the transportation system, and coordinating communication among local, state, and federal partners.
  • Identifying Threats: The planning process involved identifying potential threats, with the primary concern being major disruptions and life-threatening accidents on transportation systems.
  • Transportation-Related Threats: Specific associated threats related to transportation included disrupted emergency service vehicle responses, stranded motorists, and disrupted school transportation.
  • Non-Transportation Threats: Other concerns were attacks at mass gatherings, communication disruptions on cell phones, issues at mass gatherings (like overdoses and fights), sun blindness, heat exhaustion, and other medical incidents not related to transportation, increased 911 calls from individuals unaware of the eclipse, boat and water accidents, airspace issues, and issues with solar energy devices.

These takeaways emphasize the importance of preparation, resource allocation, and inter-agency coordination to manage large-scale events effectively.

Read more about the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency: NOCoE Virtual Peer Exchange – Solar Eclipse – Tennessee Slides (TEMA).pdf.

Managing Roadways During the Total Eclipse – Key Takeaways from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) had several key takeaways from their experience with the solar eclipse, which included both expected and unexpected elements:

  • Targeted Information Campaign: They conducted an information campaign directed at specific groups such as businesses, truckers/travelers, local residents, and eclipse watchers.
  • Public Communication: A joint general release was made with the Kentucky Emergency Management (KYEM) to disseminate information effectively.
  • Traffic Monitoring and Reporting: They had systems in place for traffic monitoring and reporting, which likely included using tools like WAZE and Google Maps for real-time traffic data.
  • Managing Expectations: KYTC prepared for up to 500,000 guests arriving over three days, with increased traffic and commercial activity and schools being closed.
  • Reality vs. Expectations: The turnout was about 300,000 guests, with traffic congestion mainly occurring on Monday as visitors left. Most visitors arrived on Monday morning, and local residents stayed home, contrary to expectations.
  • Traffic Surprises: The biggest traffic surprise was residents staying home to avoid the anticipated traffic, and the worst traffic snarl occurred at the I-69/Western Kentucky Parkway/Pennyrile Parkway interchange with a 10-mile backup.
  • Traffic Data: Traffic counts indicated significant increases on specific roadways. For example, the Pennyrile Parkway saw a 60% jump in traffic, and there were notable increases in traffic across various counties, indicating much higher than average traffic volumes.
  • Outreach Success: The messaging reached visitors from approximately 47 states and 25 countries, indicating the success of their communication efforts.
  • Quotes Reflecting Experience: The KYTC noted some memorable quotes that reflected their experience and approach to handling the eclipse, emphasizing the importance of patience and the challenges in predicting human behavior.

In summary, while KYTC was prepared for a large influx of visitors, the actual patterns of arrival and departure differed from their expectations. This has provided them with insights for future events, particularly the importance of flexible planning and effective communication

Read more about the Kentucky Cabinet Action Plan for 2017 Solar Eclipse.pdf.

Managing Roadways – Key Takeaways from the Colorado Department of Transportation

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) had several key takeaways from their experience with the 2017 Solar Eclipse:

  • Coordination and Planning: Early and extensive regional planning was crucial. This included coordination among CDOT, local jurisdictions, the Colorado State Patrol, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and neighboring states. Local jurisdictions took the lead in planning efforts due to the event’s significant local impact.
  • Public Information Campaign: Public information was a key component in alerting the public to potential travel impacts. CDOT worked closely with local jurisdictions and law enforcement to ensure coordinated messaging.
  • Traffic Management: Decisions were made to limit lane closures, halt construction projects, and restrict oversized/overweight vehicles to facilitate traffic flow and enhance public safety.
  • Resource Allocation and Staging: Identification of staging areas for first responders, handling vehicle breakdowns without exacerbating highway situations, and managing traffic congestion were discussed and planned.
  • Communication Systems: Questions on how to keep everyone informed, track traffic flow rates, and manage potential communication disruptions, such as overwhelmed cellphone towers, were addressed.
  • Operational Adjustments: Using predictive and real-time traffic data assisted planning efforts, especially in resource staging. Real-time analysis helped develop a comprehensive picture of traffic flow across the state.
  • Incident Management: Incident Commanders and Corridor Managers were deployed to participate in Task Force operations with an emphasis on keeping highways open and functioning.
  • Maintenance and Fueling Stations: Maintenance activities were temporarily suspended for public safety, with crews continuing patrols to assist travelers. A fueling station was set up for first responders, along with the deployment of chemical toilets and traffic control devices.
  • Emergency Management: CDOT’s Office of Emergency Management was present at the Traffic Operations Center to assist in establishing situational awareness and coordinating resource allocation as needed.
  • After-Action Improvements: CDOT identified areas for improvement, such as making policy-level decisions earlier in the process and better communicating those decisions to stakeholders.

These takeaways reflect the comprehensive efforts made by CDOT to ensure safety and manage the transportation network effectively during the solar eclipse event. They also highlight the need for early planning, interagency coordination, and flexible operational adjustments in response to large-scale events.

Read more about the Colorado Department of Transportation After Action Report.

DFW’s Eclipse Blueprint: Leveraging Past Experiences

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is poised to apply these lessons to ensure the 2024 eclipse is a seamless and joyous event:

  1. Early Engagement: We’re starting our preparations now, leveraging good relationships established in 2017 and forming new ones to build a robust support network.
  • Strategic Communications: Effective messaging is essential. This includes joining statewide communications teams early, reconciling conflicting messages from stakeholders, and focusing on positive, preparation-oriented communication. Utilize varied channels like social media, electronic message boards, news media, and radio for public announcements.
  • Safety Messaging could include:
    • Don’t stop along the interstate or shoulder
    • Exit the highway to view or photograph the Total Solar Eclipse.
    • Don’t take photographs while driving.
    • Turn your headlights on.
    • Watch out for pedestrians.
    • Prepare for congestion on the day before, the day of and the day after the eclipse.
  • Technological Foresight: Incorporate cutting-edge technologies for traffic management and public information to facilitate a smooth experience for all attendees.
  • Collaborative Planning: Municipalities need regional coordination by establishing task forces and partnerships to create a cohesive strategy that encompasses all aspects of event management.
  • Comprehensive Safety Measures: Emphasizing the pre-staging of incident response teams and the strategic placement of amenities will ensure a quick and effective response to any situation.
  • Data-Driven Decisions: Using real-time data will be key in making informed decisions, from signal timing changes to asset placements.

Embracing the Future with Optimism

The 2024 eclipse offers an opportunity to showcase the DFW area’s resilience and ingenuity. We are not just preparing for an event; we’re setting the stage for a collective experience that will be etched in the memories of all who witness it. As we count down to April 8, 2024, let’s come together as a community to welcome the world to our doorstep and celebrate the cosmic dance of the sun and moon.

Stay tuned to for more updates and tips on how to prepare for the Total Solar Eclipse 2024. Whether you’re a lifelong resident or planning a visit, we’re here to guide you through the best spots and strategies for a truly stellar experience. Join us as we turn our eyes skyward and watch day turn to night in the most extraordinary way!

For more information, read the entire report: The Incorporation of Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) Enables Utah DOT to Effectively Manage the 2017 Solar Eclipse and Respond to a Large Scale Event.  

#TotalEclipseDFW #Eclipse2024 #DFWEclipseReady

One Comment

  1. Tammy C.

    Thank you Total Eclipse DFW! These takeaways from states around the country – all in one place – are invaluable to our local DFW planning and safety groups.

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