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Solar eclipse expected to draw millions of travelers, and congestion, to Carolinas

Hundreds line up for last batch of solar eclipse glasses

Discovery Place is selling their last shipment of 1,000 pairs of eclipse glasses at noon on Thursday. Video by John D. Simmons/The Charlotte Observer
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Discovery Place is selling their last shipment of 1,000 pairs of eclipse glasses at noon on Thursday. Video by John D. Simmons/The Charlotte Observer

With millions of travelers expected to descend on the Carolinas in pursuit of Monday’s total solar eclipse, drivers should prepare for clogged highways.

Key advice for eclipse chasers: Get to your viewing spot early and stay there. Just trying to get to work? Commutes could take longer.

“Two hours out from the eclipse is not the time to decide where you want to be,” Sgt. Bob Beres of the South Carolina Highway Patrol told Columbia’s State newspaper. “Don’t wait until the last minute to decide you want to go watch it in another part of the state, because you might not make it before the eclipse happens.”

In Charlotte, the partial eclipse will begin at 1:12 p.m. Monday, peak at 2:41 p.m. and end at 4:04 p.m. The timing in South Carolina will be similar.

Increasing traffic could begin Friday, especially in South Carolina. More than 2.1 million people are estimated to head to the state, where the path of total eclipse will cut through the state’s midsection.

North Carolina’s totality zone is limited to the state’s western tip. Still, the state transportation department expects hundreds of thousands of eclipse travelers to visit the state or drive through it.

Message boards warning of possible traffic delays are already up in the Charlotte area. Because a coast-to-coast total solar eclipse hasn’t occurred for nearly a century, road managers aren’t sure of what to expect.

“We’re asking folks to be patient and be aware of other drivers,” said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jen Thompson.

North Carolina’s DOT will halt road work and lane closures on primary routes in the 17 westernmost counties between Friday evening and Tuesday afternoon. Closed lanes will be opened on interstate highways elsewhere if traffic backs up.

Forty-two portable message boards will be deployed in seven counties, and three closed-circuit TV cameras have been installed to monitor the timing of traffic lights to keep traffic moving. Four motorist-assistance trucks will patrol I-26 and I-40, Nantahala Gorge and the Cowee Gap area.

The 70-mile-wide swath of total eclipse will cut through South Carolina’s cities of Columbia, Greenville and Charleston. Additional state troopers will be assigned to those cities and to the Interstate 26 corridor.

Real-time traffic information is available by calling 511 or going online for North Carolina and South Carolina.

Transportation officials offer these travel tips:

▪ Arrive early if you’re traveling to view the eclipse.

▪ In the path of total eclipse, follow the real-time instructions on posted signs and message boards instead of your GPS.

▪ Don’t park on the shoulder of the road to view the eclipse – use a rest area or parking lot instead. Keep an eye out for pedestrians near the many viewing events.

▪ Don’t be in a hurry to get back on the road after the eclipse, when traffic will be heavy.

▪ Don’t wear eclipse glasses while driving!

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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