Traveling to Carbondale for the Eclipse? IDOT Says ‘Pack a 10-Gallon Tank of Patience’

(Video produced by Nicole Cardos)

Brandon Keller just might be the one person in Illinois whose focus during Monday’s total solar eclipse won’t be on the moment of totality.

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“For me, the main event really starts when the eclipse departs Illinois,” Keller, emergency coordinator at the Illinois Department of Transportation, told the podcast The Stream.

“With all the people coming into Illinois and then departing afterward, that’s when the real event takes place,” Keller said. “I picture it as a large football game in southern Illinois, everyone trying to leave all at once. It’s my Super Bowl.”

Keller began planning for the 2024 eclipse in August 2022, reviewing reports from 2017, when southern Illinois was also at the center of totality.

Back then, what was dubbed an “eclipse hangover” occurred when a mass exodus of eclipse chasers encountered bumper-to-bumper gridlock on interstates — namely I-57 — and back roads alike. Among the travel horror stories: moving all of 15 miles in two hours, and trips from Carbondale to Chicago taking anywhere from 12 to 14 hours.

“We knew we needed to do everything we could to mitigate traffic congestion on the interstate system,” Keller said.

Some of the delays in 2017 were attributed to work-zone lane closures, which squeezed the flood of cars into even narrower channels. This time around, lanes in work zones will be open wherever possible — something that, due to advance planning, was written into contracts, Keller said.

Dynamic message boards on the interstates will be continually updated with traffic information, and IDOT is also pointing people toward its Getting Around Illinois website, where travel conditions are posted.

While all the planning may lead to an improvement over 2017, there’s no way to eliminate congestion altogether, with estimates suggesting anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 visitors may be converging on southern Illinois for the eclipse.

“There will be a lot of traffic; you can anticipate slow-moving traffic in certain parts,” Keller said. “Prepare for a longer drive time.” 

Or prepare to stick around for an extra day, which is the other message Illinois officials have been pushing out to the public.

“Enjoy the local scenery, enjoy what southern Illinois has to offer,” Keller said.

For people who choose or have to head home on Monday afternoon, Keller has one parting piece of advice: “Have patience when traveling. If you’re gonna pack supplies for your trip, also pack a 10-gallon tank of patience.”

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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