Oregon traffic jam worth the celestial view | Taking Stock

By Tim Raetzloff | Aug 30, 2017

On Aug. 21, I got to see Venus and Orion before sunrise. Orion is my favorite constellation, and I seldom see it at this time of year.

I usually only see Orion in the night sky in winter and spring months. It disappears from my usual viewing hours in May and reappears in November.

As I have gotten older, and especially since the deaths of my wife, brother and a number of close friends, I wonder when Orion disappears from the evening sky if I will be there to see it again later in the year. So seeing Orion was a special occasion for me, and Venus was a bonus.

Later that same day, I was a part of what I assume was the first ever traffic jam in Wheeler and Gilliam Counties in Oregon. I had viewed the solar eclipse at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. On the route home, I took the John Day Highway, which runs through Wheeler and Gilliam Counties.

All went smoothly until about 3 miles from Fossil, Oregon, the county seat of Wheeler County. There had been plenty of traffic through the metropolises of Spray and Service Creek, but it had moved smoothly at the speed limit.

Fossil is the biggest municipality in Wheeler County. Some 473 people who live in Fossil, out of a total population of 1,441 in the county, were probably not the issue causing the traffic jam. Wheeler County has 1,715 square miles of land, so there is fewer than one person per square mile. Wheeler is the least populous county in Oregon.

I assumed that there was an accident somewhere up the line. But I never saw an accident, and of that I was glad. An accident would be a lousy way to end a remarkable day viewing the solar eclipse.

The traffic jam continued for about 20 miles into Gilliam County, and all the way to Condon, the county seat. Gilliam County is a little more populous than Wheeler, but 1,871 people in 1,223 square miles shouldn't clog the roads that badly. Condon has 682 people, and the county is the third least populous in Oregon.

I have been to both counties before and never run into a problem of this sort. Apparently eclipse viewers were just more than the infrastructure could handle. I had seen estimates that a million people would go to Oregon to view the eclipse. Many of those were from Washington, and more than a few were from British Columbia.

We finally reached Condon, and there I found out the source of the backup. A county sheriff's car was parked at the stop sign for the intersection of highways 19 and 206. The officer may not have been checking to see that every car came to a complete stop and looked every direction before proceeding, but that was the effect. The additional effect was that traffic was backed up for more than 20 miles.

I didn't see anybody stopping in Condon, which was a shame because Condon is a cute little town and has a restored, historic hotel. Once past the stop sign in Condon, it was smooth driving all the way to Arlington on I-84.

Arlington is most notorious for firing its mayor a decade ago when she posed in lacy lingerie on the town fire engine. I-84 was smooth until almost to Portland, when we ran into the other Washingtonians and BCers heading north from Salem, Albany and Depoe Bay.

It was a jam all the way home. Traffic would clog and sometimes stop. Then it would break loose for a few miles. Clog again and break loose again, all the way home. I thought that the Washington Department of Transportation should be out monitoring, as the choke points would be obvious for improving traffic flow in the future. Unlike Oregon, I have been in this sort of jam on I-5 before, heading home on a Sunday when the weather has been good.

My drive took nearly 10 hours, including a gas stop in the Dalles. Like the old Visa commercials, there was a cost in time away from work and money for the trip, but the experience to see a total eclipse was priceless.

I had seen partial eclipses before; the difference in seeing it go total is indescribable. And for me, Orion and Venus were just an unexpected bonus to the day.

 

Tim Raetzloff operates Abarim Business Computers at Harbor Square in Edmonds. What he writes combines his sense of history and his sense of numbers. Neither he nor Abarim have an investment in any of the companies mentioned in this column.

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