The clock is ticking. We're just days away from the total solar eclipse on Monday, August 21. But we'll learn sooner than that whether huge crowds cause traffic gridlock in the eclipse's path.
One central Oregon city is not taking any chances.
Many of the key highways to and from prime eclipse viewing spots in central Oregon converge on the crossroads town of Madras. There's a high probability of gridlock if the predicted eclipse crowds come.
Madras normally has a population of about 6,700. But during the solar eclipse travel period, 100,000 people may pass through.
Madras Public Works Director Jeff Hurd wants to make sure police, firefighters, ambulances, doctors, road crews and the trucks that empty porta-potties can get through.
"What we started talking about was, 'Hey, we need to have our own route,’” Hurd said. “It will be solely open just for us so we can get where we need to get in case of emergency.”
The essential services routes include two north-south corridors and one east-west corridor. Residents who live on the mostly-residential streets have been mailed passes so they can go to and fro.
Hurd said the closures of backstreets connecting the city center to the hospital, fire station, jail and public works yard will last from Friday, August 18 through the eclipse Monday.
Madras appears to be the only Northwest town to convert public streets into limited-access emergency routes for the solar eclipse.
The city is almost directly under the centerline of the solar eclipse’s path. Numerous farmland and property owners in the surrounding area are temporarily converting fields into camping areas and event parking for the long eclipse weekend.