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PA Turnpike Braces for Solar Eclipse Traffic

Home News Stories from the Turnpike Tunpike Braces for Solar Eclipse Traffic

Every now and then the moon crosses in front of the sun in such a way that, from the perspective of certain points on Earth, we see a total eclipse of the sun.

It’s been thousands of years since an eclipse threw people into a tizzy of sacrifices and apocalyptic panic, but it does draw millions of visitors to the narrow strips on the planet with the best view of the celestial show. On Monday, the venue happens to be Erie, and the best way to get there for nearly 300,000 people involves a trip across the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“We’re almost in pope mode,” said Traffic Emergency Management Specialist Bill Howard, referencing the traffic volumes seen during Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in 2015. “We have the potential for same traffic numbers we saw then.”

Digital Message Signs and notices in the service plazas and the Turnpike’s social media pages are spreading the word to travelers, letting them know traffic volumes are going to be heavy that day. The path of the eclipse will move across Pennsylvania starting around 2 p.m. with totality around 3:16 p.m. That’s the peak of the show, which ends around 4:30 p.m.

While many will have traveled to Erie throughout the weekend leading up to the eclipse, that traffic would have been staggered. The departure times for most will fall after the eclipse with a mass of traffic heading down I-79 to the Turnpike’s Cranberry Interchange and on to Breezewood.

While the Turnpike itself is not in the path of the totality of the eclipse, it will be darkened a bit by a partial eclipse. Howard advises travelers to turn on their headlights and said they should not wear special eclipse-viewing glasses while behind the wheel.

And eclipse or not -- drivers should also keep their phones down and should not pull over on the Turnpike to watch.

Additionally, vehicles parked along the side of the Turnpike Monday morning will be towed, Howard said. Construction activities, particularly at the Cranberry Interchange, will be limited that day, as well.

During the eclipse, the Turnpike will have extra Maintenance crews and Traffic Operations Center staff on hand and will be activating just like a winter storm with officials keeping a close eye on the flow of traffic and incidents.

It’s also good practice for 2026, Howard said, when Philadelphia will see the dual events of the nation’s 250th birthday and the World Cup -- and for the next total solar eclipse that will be visible in Pennsylvania in 2079.

“We thought it would be compelling for them to see what would happen if their attention is taken away from the roadway, even for a short period of time,” Manager of Communications and Marketing Rosanne Placey said.

National studies show one in five people admitted to driving while distracted, and on the Turnpike, that’s 100,000 vehicles worth of distracted drivers daily, she pointed out. 

In 2023, distracted driving was the primary factor in three of the Turnpike’s 18 fatal crashes. Though last year saw fewer total fatalities than the year before, more of those crashes involved distracted driving as the primary factor.

Distracted driving has been a problem for a long time, but during the pandemic, with fewer people on the road, many drivers developed some bad habits that, four years later, have only gotten worse.   

According to the “No Game” campaign, someone sending the average-length text message while driving 55 mph will have traveled the length of a football field while distracted.  

“That’s scary that you’re driving 100 yards with no eyes on the road,” Macchione said. “If you’re texting, you’re six times more dangerous than an intoxicated driver. That’s called being ‘digitally drunk.’”

Distractions are more than just texting. It’s watching videos, checking social media, eating, adjusting the radio, and even reading a book while driving. But campaigns like “No Game” can help level up driver safety. One way to bring about a change is to sign the campaign’s pledge to drive distraction free. And Macchione’s advice is to always drive like a child is watching you to prevent passing on bad habits to the next generation.  

And to show them that driving is no game.

“You don’t have an extra life,” Macchione said. “In real life, if you make a mistake, you can pay with your life.”

By Steve Marroni, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Communications Specialist