Eclipse traffic is slamming gas stations – and delis – as Colorado migration begins

A man uses protective glasses the moon pass in front of the Earth’s star marking a total eclipse in Vigo, northwestern Spain on March 20, 2015.

The great eclipse migration has begun. And for those hitting the road late, maybe pack a lunch. Oh, and don’t forget some extra gas. You’re probably already too late for eclipse glasses or a place to stay.

Metro Denverites making the trek north for Monday’s total eclipse of the sun have already been warned of extreme traffic delays that could give a turtle time to cross the road. But drivers should also be prepared for delays at gas stations as eclipse hunters are already crowding the pumps.

“We didn’t prepare enough apparently,” said Jean Milligan, the deli manager at Reata Travel Stop in Sterling along Interstate-76 on the way to Nebraska. “This place has been slammed.”

Normally, Milligan said he’ll make 100-110 sandwiches at the deli from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. He had made 200 before 2 p.m. on Friday.

Milligan said he was glad the travel stop had ordered extra gas and stock. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t run out of things — namely eclipse glasses.

The Colorado Department of Transportation said some experts have predicted up to 600,000 people heading to Wyoming, which would double the state’s population. The agency told people to imagine six Denver Broncos games getting let out at the same time. High traffic was expected through Tuesday, the worst day being Monday when the eclipse will hit.

CDOT safety patrols normally carry five gallons of extra gas in case people run out on the roads, agency spokesman Jared Fiel said. But staff will be stocking up with 20 gallons for the eclipse and will be filling up when needed.

Love’s Travel Stops spokeswoman Kealey Dorian said the national chain usually sees traffic dropping around this time as the summer travel season ends. But the eclipse is extending that season by a week or two.

Most of the chain’s stores are staffing the eclipse weekend as if it were a holiday weekend with one or two extra people, she said. Stores have worked with vendors to make sure they were stocked on items that typically sell well over the summer, such as bottled water and small snacks.

But all in all, the weekend isn’t fazing the chain too much, she said. “For us, it’ll be more of the same.”

Little America, a travel center, restaurant and hotel in Cheyenne, has started to see an uptick in visitors, but it hasn’t been overwhelming — yet. The hotel’s administrative assistant Kyla White said the staff is expecting the hit to come Saturday.

“It’s pretty much taking a week and putting it on one day,” she said.

The travel center has seen its fair amount of traffic with Frontier Days, but White said that likely won’t compare to the number of people coming for the eclipse. Typically, the travel center slows down after the rodeo, so White said the extra business is a good thing.

The hotel booked out completely Sunday night six months ago. And although Little America hasn’t been hit too hard, she’s heard of other gas stations with 20-30 minute waits and people filling gas cans in their cars.

The travel center stocked up on extra gas, restaurant supplies, gas station supplies and even emergency backup supplies. The restaurant plans to open an hour earlier on Monday and has scheduled extra staff for the day.

“It makes me nervous,” she said. “No one really likes a small town getting filled up. For example, I’ve noticed a lot of different license plates: New York, Florida, Iowa, you name it. There’s been quite a bit of foreign plates.”

She said Cheyenne wasn’t used to traffic, which makes her nervous for her Monday morning work commute, although she speculated that plenty of people will take the day off.

“We’re excited,” she said, “but we also kind of want it to be over.”

Nationally, officials aren’t quite sure what to expect. Federal Highway Administration spokesman Doug Hecox said the eclipse is going to cross 14 states, more than two dozen interstates and countless state highways, county roads and city streets.

“Traffic patterns before, during and after the eclipse are unclear to us,” he said. “The nation has simply not seen an event quite like this in nearly a century, so it’s hard to make a good estimate with so little baseline data from which to extrapolate.”

Hecox warned of road rage and distracted drivers, especially as people watch the sun instead of the road, which could be dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. He discouraged people from pulling over or trying to watch the eclipse while driving. Instead, he said people should go to a park or yard.

It’s not just an increase in cars, though. Casper-Natrona County International Airport Director Glenn Januska said the airport is expecting 167 aircraft coming in the morning of the eclipse between 5:30-11:15 a.m. That’s equivalent to one plane every two minutes.

CDOT has offered suggestions to help drivers heading to the eclipse:

Fill up on gas to avoid running out of fuel Don’t stop and pull off on the side of the roads Don’t illegally park anywhere, such as on highway medians Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and snacks

Arthur F. Burns Program fellow Thierry Backes contributed to this article.

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