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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Traffic snarls expected before, after solar eclipse

In this May 20, 2012, file photo, the annular solar eclipse is seen as the sun sets behind the Rocky Mountains from downtown Denver. Destinations are hosting festivals, hotels are selling out and travelers are planning trips for the total solar eclipse that will be visible coast to coast on Aug. 21, 2017, but the Department of Transportation is warning of the possibility of extreme congestion on the highways as people transit Washington on their way south to Oregon. (David Zalubowski / AP)

While much of the Northwest seems to be waiting eagerly for a once-in-a-generation chance to see all or at least part of a solar eclipse, state government is approaching with caution.

The Department of Transportation is warning of a possible carmeggedon on the highways as people transit Washington on their way south to Oregon where the eclipse will be total. Washington is arguably the much cooler state, but the sun likes to spread its eclipses around, and we had our shot at a total eclipse back in 1979.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office helped spread the word late last week, with an emailed press release which warned “prepare for gridlock” in its subject line. Expect significant delays, it said.

How significant? No way of telling, state officials said, but maybe similar to a large winter storm, or traffic after a Seahawks game on top of a back-up from a road construction project.

In other words, just slightly worse than a Monday morning commute during summer road construction season in Pugetopolis.

Transpo officials are suggesting everyone heading to Oregon to catch the totality leave plenty early. Considering the start of the total eclipse is shortly after 10 a.m., folks hoping to be at least slightly south of Portland by then may have to get on the road the night before to have any chance of getting where they plan to be.

Down in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown is calling out the National Guard to help with the surge of humanity.

The eclipse will pass over Interstate 5 below Portland, which conjures up images of would-be sun gazers caught in a giant traffic snarl as everything starts to go dark. At that point, one of two things is likely to happen:

I-5 will turn into a giant parking lot, with people popping out of their vehicles to experience whatever it is they are driving hundreds of miles to experience. Or drivers who don’t want to miss the “show” will don their special eclipse glasses while inching along, to catch a glimpse of the sun without being blinded by the light.

Remember, mama always told you not to look into the sights of the sun. Regardless of what Bruce Springsteen says, it’s not where the fun is.

Driving with your glasses on would be the more dangerous of the two, because eclipse glasses turn everything else black, including that semi just ahead that’s trying to get a load of something from Seattle to California.

One other thing to remember. The total eclipse lasts about two minutes, so if this seems like a lot for a little, just wait until 2045, when another eclipse will hit the West Coast. You’ll have to go down to Northern California, but by then everybody will be in autonomous cars so you won’t have to worry about other drivers putting on their eclipse glasses.

Dog days of summer

August is usually a peaceful time in the Capitol environs, with half of the state bureaucracy on vacation at any given moment and the Legislative session being little more than a vague memory.

But 2017 is the year the session refuses to go away. Some legislators gathered last week to talk about the prospects of passing the two major chunks of unfinished business, a $4 billion construction budget and a major change to the state’s water rights laws.

When the Legislature went home after three special sessions on July 20, Senate Republicans were sticking to their vow that the former would not pass unless the latter passed also. On Wednesday key legislators, a member of Inslee’s staff and the head of the Department of Ecology got together to see if three weeks off had resulted in a breakthrough.

When the meeting was announced, it seemed for a brief second like legislators might be getting ready to return fire to Inslee, who is spending part of his August traveling around the state, criticizing Senate Republicans for holding hostage some local school, health care or water project that’s in the capital budget.

But no. Reportedly they mainly talked about where things were when everything ground to a halt three weeks earlier. They’ll meet in a few weeks or so to talk about new plans. In that sense, legislators seem to be a bit like school children who slip back over summer vacation and need a period of review before embarking on something new.

We say “reportedly” because this is what reporters were told afterward. The meeting was held behind closed doors, no public allowed.

This is standard operating procedure for “sensitive” negotiations – sometimes lawmakers don’t feel comfortable talking about how to make public policy or spend the public’s money when the public is around.

But it might undercut any arguments Senate Republicans are making about opening up negotiations between state employees unions and the governor’s office on labor contracts. That’s one topic of a “work session” by the Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee this week in Bellevue.