If there is one issue that's on the minds of Jefferson County residents as the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse nears, it's traffic. Social media is awash in comments and concerns from local residents who fear gridlock on local highways.
How will officials handle the influx of an estimated 100,000 visitors entering the area from U.S. highways 97 and 26?
"We will have incident response crews positioned strategically along U.S. 97 between La Pine and Madras, every few (four to five) miles," said Peter Murphy, public information officer for Oregon Department of Transportation Region 4. "They're tasked with removing obstructing vehicles to keep the highway traffic moving."
Murphy said that ODOT will have two people in each truck to respond 24 hours per day on Sunday and Monday, Aug. 20 and 21, and 12 hours per day on other key days, to be adjusted as needed.
"Dover should be covered, and we'll do what we can within the city limits, but that might be a challenge due to the influx of visitors," he said. "In terms of extra resources, we'll recruit personnel from our construction crews to work alongside maintenance crews to staff up those incident response crews."
A total of six variable message signs will help ODOT keep motorists informed, according to Jim Scholtes, assistant manager for the region. "We'll have message boards at Warm Springs, near the boat launch, one inside the city at the north side, where the highways come together, a permanent one near Gruner Chevrolet, another down near the 26 intersection south of town, and another up near the weigh station on 97."
"Our primary intent is keeping traffic flowing all the way through," said Scholtes, noting that the message boards will let motorists know that parking alongside the highways is forbidden, except for emergencies.
In order to transport people around town, the Jefferson County Tourism Group, which is putting on the SolarFest at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, and SolarTown north of Madras, will be leasing 20 buses from School District 509-J.
"Each of the buses will carry roughly about 60 adults," said J.R. Brooks, who formed the Jefferson County Tourism Group with Kelly Simmelink and Sandy Forman. Beginning Friday, Aug. 18, the buses will operate from 6 a.m. until midnight every day.
"We worked in conjunction with the city to get the emergency routes set up," said Brooks, whose group has sold 8,500 festival tickets, and about 6,500 shuttle passes — a combination of day passes and full weekend passes.
From Aug. 18-21, the city of Madras will close certain roads to through traffic to allow emergency and essential services to get through, as well as the shuttle buses.
The Emergency Service Route will include temporary closures on the east side of town:
- Turner Street from J Street to H Street.
- H Street and Turner east to Eighth Street and Eighth Street to Buff Street.
- Eighth Street to E Street east on E Street to Ninth Street.
- Ninth Street to Oak Street.
In the center of town:
- C Street from Ninth Street to First Street.
On the west side of town:
- First Street from J Street to C Street.
- Canyon Road to Glass Drive.
- Glass Drive to Adler Drive.
- Adler Drive to Demers Drive.
The buses won't just be driving from the SolarFest to SolarTown. "The city route and bus stops are set up to service as many service industry businesses in Madras as we can," said Brooks.
"We put in stops to service Lowell Observatory (at the Madras Performing Arts Center), the MAC (Madras Aquatic Center), and Juniper Hills Park," he said. "We developed mass transit for the whole city."
Shuttle passes are $5 per day, or $15 for a four-day pass. To find out more or purchase a pass, go to www.oregonsolarfest.com/shuttle-info.
The group will also be using two MAC buses to transport people to and from Warm Springs, with stops at Indian Head Casino, the Museum at Warm Springs, the Warm Springs Community Center and the campus area by the old Warm Springs Elementary School.
"We'll control the traffic coming out of Fairgrounds Road; we won't allow lefthand turns (at Highway 97)," said Brooks. "You'll only be able to turn south. If you want to go north, you have to go to the Culver Highway and turn right."
The city of Madras will have flaggers controlling traffic at Cherry Lane and Highway 26, for Solar Port and MADclipse daytripper parking. Solar Port will include fly-ins, camping and parking at the Madras Municipal Airport and surrounding area, while the city's daytripper parking — about 2,200 spaces — will be located on the east side of Berg Drive, adjacent to the airport, according to Lysa Vattimo, the city's solar eclipse plan facilitator.
"It's illegal and dangerous to park on the sides of the highway, which is one of the primary reasons we created the daytripper parking lot concept," she said. "Traffic's going to be challenging, but you'll still get to where you want to go; it will just take you a little longer."
The tour group will also use Cherry Lane for entrance to SolarTown. "Our plan for traffic on that, people coming from the south and going north will come to SolarTown on Cherry Lane; they'll turn up North Adams Drive and they'll travel west on Dogwood to the back side of SolarTown," Brooks said, noting that SolarTown will be located on the east side of Highway 26 at Dogwood Lane.
The intersection of Highway 26 and Dogwood Lane will be closed on the east side. Instead, those arriving from the north will turn east on Fir Lane, where the group will have flaggers, and travel east to North Adams Drive, and then south to Dogwood Lane to enter the back side of the event, which has nearly 6,000 spaces.
The Jefferson County Tourism Group has also contracted with bus.com to provide service to the event from the Portland International Airport, Portland, the Valley, Redmond or Bend. "We've got them on our website; people can call and book seats," said Brooks. "As soon as they fill, they start booking another bus."
Vattimo encourages people to check www.tripcheck.com for a live view of the traffic along Oregon highways. ODOT has already installed a traffic camera just south of the Madras McDonald's.
"Preplan and exercise patience for a more enjoyable experience," she said.