Downstate prepares for influx of eclipse visitors

CARBONDALE — Officials in southern Illinois have geared up as thousands of people are expected to descend on the area to view Monday’s total solar eclipse, impacting everything from traffic to cell phone reception.

The Southern Illinoisan reports the Illinois Department of Transportation has installed digital message boards to provide travelers with real time information on backups or delays, so they may find alternate routes. Some lane restrictions, such as on Interstate 57, will be lifted, while other restrictions will be in place on some roadways.

IDOT Operations Engineer Keith Miley said the department is working with Illinois State Police and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to prepare. He said motorists shouldn’t stop on the roadway or shoulder, and should keep an eye out for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“I think people need to pay particular attention in the city of Carbondale, he said.

Monday afternoon’s total eclipse — when the moon will completely block the sun — is expected to last the longest near Carbondale, which is along what’s known as the path of totality. It’s set to last about three minutes.

Other parts of southern Illinois also are in the path of totality, which stretches from coast-to-coast. People elsewhere, including Rockford, will see a partial eclipse.

An Ameren spokesman said the utility is adding extra staff in case anything happens to the energy grid. AT&T is boosting its network with temporary cell towers to ensure customers can share the moment with family and friends.

Southern Illinois University also is readying for a sold-out viewing party at Saluki Stadium and for other eclipse events on campus that are open to the public. A large committee of people is working to ensure everything goes smoothly, from a health and safety standpoint to getting food to the right places, said Rae Goldsmith, chief communications and marketing officer at SIU.

“We are taking care of a million details, from making sure the wiring is connected to finishing programs to making sure all speakers (are) ready,” Goldsmith said. “So, there’s a lot happening.”

The city of Carbondale is putting up “way finding” signs to guide people to parking lots and shuttle buses. There also are portable toilets, stages and tents.

–Associated Press

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