Here's What You Need To Know In Kansas City Before You Hit The Road For The Solar Eclipse

Aug 10, 2017

Get ready for a traffic jam. 

Across the United States, millions of people plan to travel the highways and byways to view the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21. The moon will block the sun along a narrow band through 14 states — including Kansas and Missouri. The eclipse begins around 11:40 a.m., with totality just after 1 p.m.

As many as 1.2 million eclipse-watchers could travel to Missouri between Aug. 18 - 22. Parts of the metro are in the path of totality; on the edges, totality will last for seconds. St. Joseph, Missouri, one of the cities in the center of the path, will be a popular site to view the eclipse for a long stretch — 2 minutes and 39 seconds. 

Cell phone companies in the area have boosted coverage and capacity; some are adding temporary mobile sites.

So what will the roads look like? 

As you travel towards the center of the path of the eclipse, there's longer viewing in Missouri: Kansas City, 29 seconds, Independence, 1:10, Excelsior Springs, 2:30, and St. Joseph, 2:38.
Credit courtesy NationalEclipse.com

"I think at this point we're not really sure what to expect," says Melissa Black, Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT)'s communications manager in Kansas City. 

She adds, "Our concern is always safety. We are concerned that people will, for instance, try to pull over and look at the event from the highway — which we are highly discouraging.

"We want people to be in safe spots, we want them not to be in areas where they could potentially put themselves at risk, or someone else." 

To help monitor the roadways, she says, some MoDOT staff will be redirected from regular duties, such as filling potholes and mowing. Construction in work zones will also be put on hold, if at all possible, from Friday through Tuesday to help traffic flow. 

Here are some safety tips if you plan to travel to view the eclipse: 

Be aware 

Keep an eye out for pedestrians, emergency vehicles, as well as other motorists. Don't take photos while driving, says Black. 

Check a map 

The duration of totality varies in Kansas. Kansas City will see 24 seconds of totality, Leavenworth, 1:32, and Atchison, 2:19.
Credit courtesy NationalEclipse.org

Black suggests motorists consult traffic conditions before leaving, so they can know what to expect and adjust their route, if needed.

MoDOT offers a traveler information map to advise motorists of delays. The Kansas Department of Transportation also provides this service. And Kansas City Scout delivers traffic updates for the metro area. 

'Come early, stay late'

Heavy congestion is expected on the roadways. "Come early, stay late," advises Black.

In St. Joseph, parking areas at some watch locations, such as Rosencrans Memorial Airport (available for purchase through August 11) and Remington Nature Center (first-come, first-serve), open at 7 a.m. Others, like East Hills Shopping Area, plan to open at 6 a.m.

Libraries, wineries, astronomical societies and others have scheduled watch parties in and around the metro area. But wherever you decide to go, "get to the destination and stay there," she says. "Don't try to move around, [or] be in traffic during that time."

Don't park on the highway

Motorists could be tempted to park on the shoulder of the highway to view the eclipse. Don't do it, says Black. "First off, it's illegal [for non-emergency reasons] and it causes a safety hazard," she explains. "We really want people to not be on the side of the highways. They need to find a safe location to stop and view." 

Get ready 

Plan like you're getting ready for a road trip. Make sure your car has a full tank of gas. "Bring water and snacks with you," she suggests, "just to make sure you're prepared and ready in case of an emergency." 

And don't forget those safety glasses

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.