ODOT to station workers every few miles on Central Oregon highways to keep roadways clear of blockages

During the days leading up to and proceeding the solar eclipse, the Central Oregon area is expecting a surge of at least a half-million visitors.

Crook County is home to several events that combined will bring at least 50,000 people to the community as well as an unknown number of other visitors that will either come to stay for a few days or pass through the area during the Aug. 21 event.

Such a boom in population is expected to drastically increase traffic in Crook County and throughout Central Oregon, prompting special plans among city, county and state road departments to keep vehicles moving.

The Oregon Department of Transportation, which oversees all state and federal highways in Oregon, will handle the lion's share of the traffic issue throughout Central Oregon's various communities.

"We are going to have people stationed basically every four to five miles," said Peter Murphy, public information officer for ODOT's Region 4. "When I say that, I don't mean they are going to be stationary, they will be pre-positioned and responding up and down the Highway 97 corridor. We will also have people between Redmond and Mitchell who will be on the road with the objective in mind of keeping it as clear as it can be."

ODOT personnel will be stationed two people to a pickup with the mandate to move any stalled or stopped vehicles off of the highways to keep them clear of obstacles and keep traffic moving. Murphy made a point of noting that the term "moving" in this case does not necessarily mean moving quickly. He explained that traffic could slow to in-town speeds depending on different circumstances.

ODOT personnel will rely on a joint information center headquartered at the Deschutes County Fairground that will be staffed with emergency service, public health and transportation representatives beginning Wednesday, Aug. 16. The agencies will stay in continual contact during the days leading up to the eclipse as well as two or three days after as people leave the Central Oregon area.

While ODOT works to keep the highways clear, the Crook County Road Department and City of Prineville Public Works Department will team up to help keep traffic moving in Prineville and throughout the county.

Unlike ODOT, the two agencies intend to keep personnel at a central location and be prepared to respond to situations as they arise.

"I have got a limited amount of resources — 15 guys — and if I try to put people here and there and wait on something to happen, something is going to happen somewhere else," said Crook County Road Master Bob O'Neal. "We are going to load up all of our trucks. We are not doing any construction the week before or the week after, and we are going to be at the shop."

O'Neal said they will wait for calls and help pull cars off of the road, set up road blocks or do whatever else is needed throughout the duration of the event.

City Street Supervisor Scott Smith said they will suspend road construction projects as well, with no work taking place after Wednesday, Aug. 16. Public works staff will, meanwhile, stick to day-to-day tasks and be on hand to pitch in where needed.

"We will not be putting in any kind of additional traffic control or anything like that," Smith said. "We will just kind of play it by ear."

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