Eclipse traffic expected to gridlock I-15 in Northern Utah, especially Monday

Wednesday , August 16, 2017 - 4:06 PM3 comments

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

BRIGHAM CITY — The Utah Department of Transportation says next week’s solar eclipse could create a parking lot on Interstate 15 and travelers on the freeway should prepare for heavy delays.

A UDOT travel advisory says I-15 will be the primary route for “tens of thousands” of western United States travelers heading north to areas in Idaho and Wyoming, where the eclipse can be seen in its totality. 


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 According to NASA, the eclipse will happen Monday, Aug. 21. The path of totality is inside a 70-mile-wide swath that crosses the U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina. Totality begins at 11:33 a.m. in the Idaho Falls area and at 11:42 a.m. near Casper, Wyoming.

UDOT’s advisory says as many as 50,000 additional vehicles are expected to travel on I-15 in Utah during the weekend. On an average day, approximately 200,000 vehicles drive on I-15 in Salt Lake County, said UDOT spokesman John Gleason.

The transportation department says northbound traffic will be heavier than normal beginning Friday afternoon and running through Sunday evening. The heaviest northbound congestion is expected in Box Elder County from Brigham City to the I-15/I-84 junction in Tremonton.

But Gleason said the worst delays are expected for southbound traffic Monday night, when people will be returning from the eclipse.

“We expect traffic to be busy in the days leading up to the eclipse, but it will be more spread out,” Gleason said. “People will be leaving on different days, at different times. But when the eclipse is over, there will be a lot of people leaving all at once. And that traffic will crossover with the regular southbound evening commute.”

UDOT recommends drivers rethink their trips and avoid traveling on southbound I-15 on Monday, if possible.

“If you have the flexibility to work from home or shift your hours Monday, that’s definitely something people should consider,” Gleason said.

The state is also encouraging eclipse chasers to extend their stays, coming home on Tuesday or Wednesday to help thin out the traffic. 

Gleason said construction on most UDOT projects in the I-15 corridor, including a large repaving project from Brigham City to Honeyville, will be suspended Thursday through Tuesday. All lanes of I-15 through Box Elder County will be open while work is suspended.

AAA says the expected influx in travel has caused gas prices to spike all over the Intermountain West.

An Aug. 14 press release from the organization says Idaho and Utah gas prices increased more than any other states over the past week, rising 9 and 7 cents, respectively. Wyoming’s gas prices increased by 3 cents, the sixth-highest spike in the country.

AAA says the prices will continue to increase through the day of the eclipse. 

UDOT says keeping a full tank of gas should be a priority for those hitting the road to see the eclipse. 

Gleason said traffic could make it difficult to get to gas stations, and rural areas might be in short supply due to increased demand. Gleason said motorists should also bring extra food and water, expect spotty or nonexistent cellphone coverage and never stop on roads or park on shoulders to watch the eclipse. 

“This isn’t an event they’re selling tickets to, so there are a lot of unknowns,” Gleason said. “But you don’t want to be taken by surprise. Make all the plans you need to to be safe and prepared.” 

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at facebook.com/MitchShaw.StandardExaminer.

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