Traffic jam goes national
Last Wednesday, the population of Prineville temporarily exploded as tens of thousands of people drove through on their way to the Symbiosis eclipse festival at Big Summit Prairie east of town.
The constant stream of visitors kept grocery stores and gas stations inundated with customers, testing the limits of what they could provide.
By late Wednesday afternoon, the traffic headed up to Symbiosis had died down in town, but east of town was another story as a line of cars waiting to get into the festival stretched from Big Summit Prairie all the way back to Ochoco Reservoir and beyond late into the night.
Because of the standstill on Highway 26, early Thursday afternoon, the Crook County Sheriff's Office, Prineville Police Department and Oregon Department of Transportation rerouted Symbiosis traffic south on Combs Flat from Third Street out to Paulina Highway, the back way to Big Summit Prairie.
On Friday afternoon, Crook County Public Information Officer and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Vicky Ryan reported that traffic conditions were great with no heavy or backed up traffic.
The traffic that had backed up at the Symbiosis event Thursday had cleared, and they reported that getting event goers into the festival was going smoothly. The highway out to the event was opened Thursday evening around 8 p.m. and continued to be open throughout the day Friday.
A video posted by Prineville resident Jennifer Smith driving up the grade showing the traffic jam Wednesday went viral, reaching more than 1.5 million views by Thursday.
Another video from the same day shot by Redmond resident Stacey Hoosier was picked up by news channels throughout the state and ultimately by Good Morning America.
Numerous aerial photos of Highway 26 east showed a line of cars stretching from Big Summit Prairie all the way to the east end of Prineville — 38 miles.
The total solar eclipse and Symbiosis festival made national news on everything from Good Morning America to the websites for U.S. News and World Report and Time magazine.
On Sunday, Ryan said traffic was expected to be very heavy traveling west through Prineville between Monday, Aug. 21 and Wednesday, Aug. 23. She advised locals to grocery shop and get fuel before those days.
The large Symbiosis event in Big Summit Prairie reported medium departure crowds on Monday and heavy traffic exiting on Tuesday and Wednesday. They expect a light amount of vehicles leaving the event Thursday.
However, on Monday morning soon after the eclipse, heavy traffic began leaving Prineville.
"It looks like it's building a little bit through Prineville right now, but it's still moving," said ODOT Public Information Officer Peter Murphy early Monday afternoon. "We don't have any real issues. There's probably some slowing in town, but we haven't identified any significant delays."
He said ODOT is working on an exit plan for Symbiosis attendees.
"We're going to be more focused on making sure people who are leaving find the easiest traffic pattern possible," Murphy said. "It just takes a little communication with some of the agencies and making sure that the people out in Symbiosis know that we're expecting them."
Ryan said they have continued to allow Prineville traffic lights to favor the east/west traffic.
"That's creating a steady flow through town," she said Monday afternoon. "It's been quite heavy since right after the eclipse this morning, but there hasn't been any backups other than we did have a couple of stalled vehicles, but we got those off the road immediately and traffic continues to flow through."
They expect about the same level as traffic over the next two days.
"We're starting to see some traffic coming out of the Symbiosis event, and we're starting to see the regular traffic from the smaller events out on the east side," she said, noting that there was a day event at the Painted Hills.
"We've seen a lot of people coming back from that, but the bulk of the traffic coming out of the event, we're expecting Tuesday and Wednesday," Ryan said. "Everyone should practice a lot of patience. There will be some traffic congestion and longer commutes, and travelers should be prepared appropriately for the temperatures and the long commutes with extra water, extra snacks, that type of thing."