Idaho Falls has a phone line set up exclusively for inquisitive eclipse-goers. That number (208-612-8811) will be dialed more than a few times over the next few days.
The Great American Eclipse is coming Monday morning, and some chaos is expected across Idaho. Weiser, Stanley and Idaho Falls are among several Idaho cities on the path of totality, where viewers should have a full view of the eclipse – and of lots and lots of other people.
Between 370,000 and 500,000 people could travel to Idaho for the eclipse, according to projections from GreatAmericanEclipse.com. Because of the amount of phone calls already coming in and expected over the next few days, Kerry Hammon, the public information officer for Idaho Falls, said the city rounded up a few spare phones that will be manned by off-duty police officers and firefighters.
“We opened an eclipse call center. We’re staffing it according to call volume,” Hammon said. “(But) if there’s an emergency, please dial 911.”
Sarah Flick, a tourism specialist for the Idaho Department of Tourism, is simultaneously excited and nervous for the weekend. It’s an opportunity to show off all the Gem State has to offer, after all.
“We do know that we have tour groups coming in as far away as Japan … It’s definitely a national and an international event,” Flick said. “We’re really excited to showcase how awesome Idaho is.”
All that traffic
Traffic congestion forecasts have been talked about for months, and they aren’t pretty, but exact numbers are unpredictable. Adam Rush, public involvement coordinator in the Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Communication, said he expects Interstates 84 and 15 to be areas of high congestion — I-15 especially, because it connects eastern Idaho to several states to the south.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that traffic in Oregon was already backed up, and Idaho Falls had started seeing visitors Thursday.
“We started to see some in terms of license plates … we’re also hearing from our retailers and our restaurants,” Hammon said. “That’s the indicators that we have.”
More visitors also means higher gas prices. As of Monday, the average gas price was $2.65 per gallon, an increase of 12 cents from a month ago, according to AAA Oregon/Idaho. The last week alone has seen an increase of nearly nine cents.
Vince Trimboli, the Idaho Transportation Department communications manager, said he is preparing as if this were an above-average holiday weekend regarding the number of visitors.
“That’s the best we can do from a prediction standpoint,” Trimboli said. “The best thing we can do is have our crews out there.”
ITD is doing what it can to keep travelers informed. There will be 22 electronic counters set up on highways around the state to count the number of cars. That data will be collected once a day, and real-time updates on traffic conditions will be available at Idaho 511 Traveler Information. The website has information on traffic speed, accidents and so on. Additionally, the transportation department will be updating its Facebook page constantly, Rush said.
Hospitals and emergencies
St. Luke’s Health System is focusing its preparations on areas it expects to be high-traffic: Sun Valley/Wood River, McCall and Fruitland, according to Lisa Spanberger, head of disaster preparedness. Spanberger said that St. Luke’s has been in touch with partner hospitals around the state to create a plan for the weekend. Hospitals are being staffed as if it were July 4, Spanberger said. Additionally, the hospitals will be armed with an extra three days’ worth of supplies.
“(We’ve) identified the most commonly used medical resources … hydration, increasing our medications or those sorts of things,” Spanberger said. “Kind of our basic wound care, injury care.”
Spanberger said that Wood River locations will have extra oxygen tanks on site because of the higher altitudes, and St. Luke’s will have an increased air ambulance presence.
Saint Alphonsus Health System’s Boise location is the only Level II trauma center in the region. Joshua Schlaich, media relations coordinator, knows that means Saint Al’s could be in for some dire cases. It also has hospitals in Nampa, Ontario, Ore., and Baker City, Ore.
“We are going to see some of the worst of the worst,” Schlaich said.
Like St. Luke’s, the staff at Saint Alphonsus started preparations long ago. More staff than normal will be on call, just in case.
“We do expect an increase in the number of people coming to the hospital ... we don’t exactly know what to expect,” Schlaich said. “(But) at the end of the day ... it’s what you do. You always prepare.”
One area that isn’t expected to be greatly affected is the Boise Airport. Sean Briggs, the airport’s marketing manager, said no extra flights were created for the eclipse. As of late June, there were 6,664 seats on 67 arrivals for Friday.
The only noticeable difference might be the type of aircraft. Trips that usually rely on regional jets could turn to 737s to accommodate more passengers.
“We certainly don’t think it’s going to be chaos at the airport. Traffic will probably be a little bit higher,” Briggs said. “Airlines are upgrading their aircrafts.”
Briggs’ main suggestion is the same one he always has: Show up two hours early when you’re leaving to give yourself a little wiggle room.
Trash and fires.
Those are the chief concerns for Idaho’s Bureau of Land Management, according to public affairs specialist Leith Edgar. Fires are specifically troubling this time every year, as dry brush can be ignited by something as small as an exhaust pipe, according to Edgar. Cigarette butts and campfires – tens of thousands people will be in the mountains camping – could cause problems as well.
The entire state is currently under fire restrictions, according to the latest release from the Idaho Department of Land Management. That means smoking and campfires on private and federal lands outside city limits is not permitted – but will travelers know that?
“You can’t unstart a fire,” Edgar said. “For our purposes, the best way to ensure a safe experience is to (prevent fires).”
As far as trash is concerned, the BLM has set up extra portable toilets and trash receptacles along the path of totality, according to Rush. He hopes people follow the simple mantra and “pack out what they pack in.”
Edgar also emphasized the need for preparedness, since it’s going to be hard to get supplies once the traffic flow gets going. People should load up on both snacks and the essentials.
“We’re urging everyone to enjoy the eclipse to bring food, gasoline, everything that they will need,” Edgar said. “We like them to be good stewards of the land.”