Captain Brent White

Captain Brent White

The eclipse won’t come for another 42 days, but Kentucky State Police already has the situation under control. Post 2 commander, Captain Brent White, says, “I’ve met more, and our staff here has met more, about this eclipse than any event we have had meetings on in the last 10 years.”

For anyone reading who’s new to town, Aug. 21 is the Great American Eclipse. It moves from Oregon to South Carolina, but the center—what scientists call the point of greatest eclipse—is near the intersection of Highway 91 (also known as Princeton Road) and Highway 624.

With the eclipse comes traffic as tourists and eclipse-chasers pour into Christian County from around the world. White says Highway 91 “is going to see the most congestion. We anticipate possibly 15,000-20,000 people on that route, and that route usually handles probably about 4,000-5,000 people at most.”

Before anyone panics, that estimate is for the whole of 91, which runs nearly 50 miles. The state road begins near the Woodshed, and ends at the Ohio River in Crittenden County.

Fortunately KSP, the Kentucky Department of Transportation and Christian County Emergency Management have worked together on an area incident action plan. In layman’s terms, an incident action plan is a detailed list of what could go wrong with organized steps for preventing each scenario.

There are 16 regional KSP posts in the commonwealth. Each post has its own plan. Hopkinsville falls under Post 2, but since eclipse traffic affects all of western Kentucky, Post 2 and Post 1—which starts at Trigg County—worked together on one another’s plans.

Post 2’s traffic plan has five principle goals: First and foremost, keep things moving. White then lists “traveler/motorist direction, public information and the ability for emergency first responders to move throughout the area.” The fifth is addressing “anticipated and unanticipated choke points.”

Regarding those choke points, White says, “We expect some gridlock (on Kentucky 91), but we’re going to try to keep the traffic free-flowing from Hopkinsville all the way to Fredonia.”

The segment of Kentucky 91 through Fredonia may actually see more of those 15,000-20,000 people than you’d think. White explains, “We initially had Princeton as our stopping point” for congestion. “There’s been some interest that’s been generated in (Kentucky) 91 from Princeton to Fredonia...There’s fewer trees along that route and there’s a lot of open spaces out that way.” In other words, if someone’s looking to pull off the road, Fredonia geographically offers room to do it.

The new bridges on U.S. 68 in Canton are also of concern, as is the whole of Interstate 24—especially the first 40 miles north of Tennessee. If you look at a map, I-24 runs in the same direction as the eclipse. Also, many tourists are staying in Nashville then driving to Hopkinsville for the day. At the time of interview, KSP was in discussion with Tennessee Highway Patrol to monitor traffic across state lines. I-24 and U.S. 41-A will also have eyes from the sky: Kentucky Department of Transportation aircraft will continuously update KSP.

The department of transportation is also assessing road signage through the area so they can replace downed signs and add extra as needed. This may or may not include additional signs alerting tourists of Bainbridge’s large Amish population, who will travel Kentucky 91 that Sunday on their way to and from church.

Sunday and Monday are the two days KSP expect traffic to be heaviest, but their incident action plan starts providing extra protection Friday, Aug. 18.

Due to security reasons, White can’t share exactly how many troopers will be on the road, but he does say it’ll be more than normal. “We are going to have extra state troopers brought in from out of the area to help with this event,” he explains. “We’re actually also going to have some troopers here that have just recently graduated from the cadet class. Now they’re former police officers at the local level, so they’re not like green rookies, but we’re utilizing them as their first assignment once they get out of the academy.” Posts 1 and 2 will share the additional officers.

Detectives—who normally wear plainclothes—will work in uniform, adding to KSP’s highway numbers and making sure the public is aware of their presence. White adds, “Supervisors will also work in road unit capacity during this time as well. We’ll probably be altering their shifts, where they have extended shifts on certain dates.” Eight-hour shifts will likely lengthen to 10 or 12 hours.

White says, “Keeping the I-24 corridor open and free-flowing, keeping Interstate 69 open and free-flowing, preventing operators from using interstate emergency shoulders for parking, keeping Kentucky 91 open and free-flowing, those are some of our top goals of this event.”

KSP is prepared to meet these goals, but here are eclipse traffic strategies that only you can control:

Before leaving for an area event, call to make sure they still have open parking spots. If they don’t, you’re likely to be stuck in traffic—and everyone else will be stuck with you.

Don’t drive or park on the emergency shoulder. KSP has bumpers on the front of many squad cars and will push you off.

Just because you’re in a car doesn’t mean everyone else on the road is. If you’re stuck in traffic, check your side mirror before opening the car door. You don’t want to hit a motorcyclist cutting through or an officer walking past cars to help.

Finally, to quote White, “(Drivers) need to arrive early, they need to stay put when they get here, and they need to leave late.”

“Hopefully people will come to the area and they won’t notice a thing. They’ll be able to get in, get out, enjoy the viewing experience with no problem, and that’s what we hope.”

 

TERENA BELL is a freelance journalist covering the eclipse for Washington Post, Astronomy Magazine, Successful Farming and others. She is originally from Sinking Fork and graduated from UHA. Contact her on Twitter @TerenaBell or learn more at terenabell.com.

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