State officials plan to station 160 extra state troopers on I-26 and nearby roads during this month’s solar eclipse to deal with congestion and other problems.
Troopers will be concentrated along the I-26 corridor Aug. 18-21 because the eclipse is predicted to follow the highway’s 221-mile path from the Upstate to the Lowcountry, state Highway Patrol Maj. Rob Woods said during a news conference Thursday.
The focus will be keeping traffic moving and avoiding repeated standstills, officials said.
Most of the troopers will be placed in Columbia and the Lowcountry because both areas are hosting events expected to attract large crowds, Woods said. More than 100 eclipse-related events are scheduled in the Columbia area.
Nearly all area hotels – with nearly 11,200 rooms – are sold out Aug. 20-21, local tourism officials say.
But one challenge is what Woods called “day-trippers,” people who travel to Columbia just for the day to get a glimpse of the eclipse. “Those are the real unknown,” he said.
Troopers will get help managing traffic from State Transport Police as well as deputies from Lexington and Richland counties and police officers in Columbia and other Midlands communities. If necessary, motorists will be diverted off I-26 and other interstates for short periods if roads become gridlocked, Woods said.
State officials agree with predictions that as many as 1 million visitors could come to South Carolina to see the Aug. 21 eclipse.
At 2 minutes and 30 seconds, the Columbia area is expected to have among the longest periods of total eclipse on the East Coast.
Despite preparations, “there will be congestion and there will be delays” for motorists, Woods said.
The largest challenge will likely be the afternoon of Aug. 21, when crowds departing after the eclipse coincide with the start of the drive home for many Midlands commuters, he said. Area residents who normally drive on I-26 and other interstates should consider an alternate route then, Woods suggested.
Repairs on major roads will be shut down Aug. 19-22 to help reduce the chance of tie-ups for travelers arriving and leaving, according to Tom Johnson, emergency management director for the state Department of Transportation.
On area lakes, boaters should prepare for long lines to launch watercraft, said Alvin Taylor, director of law enforcement for the state Department of Natural Resources. “Ramps are going to be backed up,” he said.
He also urged boaters to turn on running lights as a safeguard during the midday darkness.
No one is sure how many people will travel to South Carolina since a total solar eclipse is “a unique event,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, the state’s adjutant general. This month’s eclipse will be the first in 99 years to darken a dozen states. But South Carolina’s experience with hurricane evacuations and football crowds should ease or prevent many problems, Livingston predicted.
State and local emergency management officials will be monitoring conditions, ready to pitch in as needed, officials said.
“There could be things that happen,” Livingston said. “We’re prepared for those.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483