Now that the solar eclipse is over, it might be smart to steer clear of Interstate 95 for a while.
NASA estimated that as many 1 million people would go to South Carolina to witness the first total eclipse visible in the continental United States since 1979, and many of them would come from the Northeast down I-95.
They were expected to pass through North Carolina over several days before the eclipse, said Steve Abbott, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Transportation. But the fear is that with jobs and other duties to attend to, they’ll all try to go home at once.
“Ideally people will wait until Tuesday to leave, but obviously some people will have to get to work,” Abbott said. “We expect heavy traffic. We’re sort of looking at it as being like beach traffic, except on a bigger scale.”
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NCDOT signs along highways have been warning of “eclipse traffic,” part of a statewide campaign to get people ready for the hundreds of thousands of people who were expected to drive south and west to see the total eclipse.
Motorists in the Triangle weren’t expected to see much change in traffic because of the eclipse, Abbott said. Other than I-95, the big problems were expected in the far southwestern North Carolina, where tens of thousands of people were expected to navigate mountain roads to see the moon totally obscure the sun.
Abbott suggests that Triangle residents returning from South Carolina consider alternatives to I-95, such as U.S. 1 or U.S. 401.
NCDOT has treated the days around the eclipse like a busy holiday weekend. It suspended road work and lane closures on main roads in 17 western counties between Friday evening and Tuesday afternoon to help keep traffic moving. Where possible, lane closures on Interstate 95 were suspended Monday as well, and NCDOT is monitoring interstates elsewhere in the state to try to head off backups.
The state installed 42 portable message boards in seven western counties to direct traffic, and state officials are urging people to follow directions on the signs rather than the maps on their phones or GPS systems.
For real-time traffic updates, go to DriveNC.gov or dial 511.