CHEYENNE — Major roadways in Wyoming looked more like rush hour highways in Los Angeles than interstates on the high plains Monday as an estimated 1 million people flocked to the state to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation estimated that overall traffic increased by more than 536,000 vehicles compared to a five-year average for the third Monday in August.
“These are historic traffic levels that Wyoming has never dealt with before,” WYDOT Public Affairs Manager Doug McGee said Tuesday.
But the state’s population could have increased by twice that amount, since more than one person is usually in a car at any given time.
A steady stream of heavy traffic made its way north in the morning starting at 3 a.m. on Interstate 25. The roads were quiet for a few hours leading up to and during the eclipse before people started making their way back early in the afternoon.
Laramie County saw the largest increase of any county in the state, with 209,394 more vehicles than average. Traffic was especially congested in Cheyenne near the junction of Interstates 25 and 80.
On Interstate 25 north of Cheyenne, there was a 403 percent increase in traffic volume, or 46,484 more vehicles than a five-year average, McGee said.
Near Central Avenue, traffic increased by 229 percent, or 42,421 vehicles, above five-year averages.
At the Colorado border on Interstate 25, traffic increased by 167 percent, or 38,247 vehicles.
“What that tells me is a lot of traffic either went to Cheyenne as their destination or they got on Interstate 80,” McGee said.
On Interstate 80, Pine Bluffs had a 61 percent increase, or more than 20,000 vehicles.
WYDOT noted that the traffic increase numbers, while as accurate as possible, aren’t exact. That’s partially because some vehicles can pass the same spot more than once a day and be counted twice.
“Suppose I’m a commuter and I live in Colorado and I go to Cheyenne. When I go home in the afternoon, I’m counted again,” said Aimee Inama, a public relations specialist for WYDOT.
The increases also don’t reflect all traffic movement because not all roads have counters.
But overall, the day went off relatively without a hitch. There were no major accidents reported, and people were patient through the traffic.
“I think drivers, under the circumstances, were really patient,” McGee said. “I think they understood that this was traffic volumes the state had never seen before. I was really impressed.”