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Prepare for traffic jams: Monday’s total solar eclipse will likely cause delays in Dallas

Here are tips on how you can prepare for total solar eclipse traffic on April 8 and info on TxDOT’s plans.

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Dallas Morning News’ coverage of the 2024 total solar eclipse. For more, visit dallasnews.com/eclipse.

Dallas-Fort Worth residents are no strangers to heavy rush-hour traffic. But the total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8, could cause more significant delays, particularly right after the event.

Millions of Americans will travel to see the eclipse, and many will come to Texas, according to Great American Eclipse. After the 2017 total solar eclipse, traffic delays on interstate highways in the path of totality lasted up to 13 hours.

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The Texas Department of Transportation has been coordinating efforts to plan for eclipse traffic. TxDOT spokesman Tony Hartzel said the traffic could be as if several large football games all ended at once.

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Will there be traffic before the eclipse?

All together, Texas locations in the path of totality, where the moon will appear to fully block the sun, may receive anywhere from 270,000 to over a million eclipse visitors, according to Great American Eclipse. Many of those visitors will gravitate to big cities such as Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio. Others may choose places off-the-beaten path.

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The weekend before the eclipse shouldn’t bring significant traffic changes, said Abraham Benavides, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas at Dallas. Visitors will gradually arrive in the days leading up to April 8.

The eclipse’s path of totality spans most of the D-FW area, including Dallas and most of Fort Worth. Denton is outside the path. Eclipse tourists will be spread out across the region, Benavides said.

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On April 8 in Dallas, the moon will begin to cover the sun around 12:23 p.m., with totality beginning around 1:40 p.m. and ending just under four minutes later. Exact timing will depend on location in the metro area.

During totality, daylight will dim, and stars may be visible in the midday sky. The main traffic concern during the eclipse will be drivers stopping their cars on highways or pulling onto the shoulder to watch it, Benavides said.

In 2017, some state transportation agencies used road signs to share warning messages such as “No parking on highway for solar eclipse” or “Solar eclipse Monday, delays possible.” Hartzel said TxDOT will post eclipse-focused messages on statewide boards, though the exact wording is being decided.

Arrive early, stay late

The moon covered the sun during a total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, in Cerulean, Ky. On...
The moon covered the sun during a total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, in Cerulean, Ky. On April 8, the sun will pull another disappearing act across parts of Mexico, the United States and Canada, turning day into night for as much as 4 minutes, 28 seconds. (File photo/The Associated Press)(Timothy D. Easley / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

When totality ends — and later, when the moon fully moves away from the sun — eclipse watchers will hop in their cars and get on highways, leading to massive delays and stop-and-go traffic, Benavides said.

“The sun’s going to be back out, life is going to continue and so everybody’s going to want to leave,” he said.

At least 5 million people traveled to see the 2017 solar eclipse, according to Transportation Research News magazine. Almost all drove, including those who flew to commercial airports and then drove to the path of totality.

Traffic delays after the eclipse were significant. The drive from Casper, Wyo., to Denver, Colo. — usually a four-hour trip — took 10 hours or more, according to Transportation Research News.

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“The rare eclipse was memorable,” reads a 2017 headline from the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky. “The ride home was something they want to forget.”

TxDOT’s Dallas district will have maintenance crews on standby to help law enforcement or respond to any issues after the eclipse, Hartzel said.

Benavides’ biggest advice is to arrive early and stay late. If traveling to see the eclipse, consider staying an extra day instead of leaving Monday night, he said, and make sure to fill up your tank before you go.

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In Dallas, where the eclipse will end around 3:02 p.m., the traffic could be compounded by rush hour later that day. Area residents might consider working from home or taking the day off, Benavides said.

Dallas was last in a solar eclipse’s path of totality on July 29, 1878, and won’t be again until 2317. With some advanced planning, residents and visitors can ensure the eclipse is more memorable than the drive home.

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Adithi Ramakrishnan is a science reporting fellow at The Dallas Morning News. Her fellowship is supported by the University of Texas at Dallas. The News makes all editorial decisions.