Vermont officials estimate 160K people drove to the state for Monday’s eclipse

Traffic slows to 25 MPH near the Sharon weigh station on Interstate 89 Southbound on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. Traffic was crawling from the Sharon exit to the New Hampshire border at noon on Tuesday, following Monday's solar eclipse. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com

Traffic slows to 25 MPH near the Sharon weigh station on Interstate 89 Southbound on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. Traffic was crawling from the Sharon exit to the New Hampshire border at noon on Tuesday, following Monday's solar eclipse. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com — Valley News - Geoff Hansen

Private planes park along a runway at E.F. Knapp airport in Berlin prior to the eclipse on Monday, April 8, 2024. The airport was expecting as many as 100 private planes to land at the small airport. (VtDigger - Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

Private planes park along a runway at E.F. Knapp airport in Berlin prior to the eclipse on Monday, April 8, 2024. The airport was expecting as many as 100 private planes to land at the small airport. (VtDigger - Jeb Wallace-Brodeur) —VtDigger - Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

By SHAUN ROBINSON

VtDigger

Published: 04-11-2024 3:48 PM

Vermont officials estimate that some 160,000 people traveled by car into the state ahead of Monday’s total solar eclipse, based on preliminary data collected by the state Agency of Transportation.

Those people came in some 60,000 vehicles, state officials said Wednesday, noting they started measuring the traffic volume last Friday. Those figures match the upper limits of what the state was projecting in the leadup to the eclipse. 

Officials also praised both visitors’ and Vermonters’ conduct on the roads, noting there were fewer accidents on Monday than during last week’s snow storm. The state received reports on 10 accidents, Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said. 

“Everyone behaved tremendously on the highways, waterways, in the sky,” Flynn told reporters at a press conference. “The sheer volume of visitors, traffic, aircraft and congestion — all with such low incidents … was nothing short of remarkable.” 

Vermont’s roadside welcome centers saw correspondingly high use — about 35,000 visitors statewide, according to Eric Forand, director of Vermont Emergency Management. That’s about three times as many visitors as the welcome centers saw on Indigenous People’s Day last fall, Forand said — a major travel day during peak foliage season. 

As expected, traffic bogged down Vermont’s interstates going northbound up until the hour of totality, and then quickly clogged southbound lanes afterward. 

Some of the slowest speeds lasted from minutes after the eclipse until 2 a.m. Tuesday morning along Interstate 89 between Colchester and the New Hampshire border. On that stretch, the average speed was about 45 mph lower than normal, with the slowest recorded average speed coming in at just 5 mph, Flynn said. 

Traffic speeds appeared only marginally faster following the eclipse on I-91 between Newport and the Massachusetts border, he said — about 38 mph below normal.

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At the same time, Flynn told reporters that the state saw historic levels of private airplane traffic into Vermont’s airports.

Vermont’s 10 state-owned airports saw 248 total airplanes land on Monday. Most of the planes flew — predictably — into northern Vermont, Flynn said, with 91 planes arriving at Northeast Kingdom International Airport in Coventry and 51 at Franklin County State Airport in Highgate. 

By comparison, Flynn said, Patrick Leahy Burlington International Airport — which is by far the state’s busiest and is owned by the city of Burlington — saw just 201 plane landings over a full recent week.

He also noted that flights started taking off after the eclipse from Vermont quickly: two departures every minute within the first half-hour following the totality. 

“They didn’t stay long,” Flynn said. 

Flynn also said that Vermont’s two Amtrak routes saw consistently higher ridership in the days leading up to the eclipse than they normally do at this time of year. Ridership on the train lines, which connect to New York City and Washington, D.C., was more in line with foliage season or busy ski weekends, Flynn said. 

Flynn and other officials told reporters that the state expects to have more data — including on the economic impact of eclipse visitors — in the coming weeks.