SALT LAKE CITY — As millions across the country prepare to journey into the path of totality to experience the upcoming solar eclipse, there's one scenario that Idaho highway officials are hoping doesn't come to fruition — that the expected 500,000 to 1 million visitors they're expecting turn I-15 itself into the most populated viewing area in the Gem State.
"We're not sure what to expect exactly, but there is a chance that traffic could come to a complete standstill during the eclipse," said Idaho Transportation Department Resident Engineer Scott Redding. "If everybody stops, that might be OK, but if only some people do, that could be a major problem."
One Utah company is playing a critical role in the work that's been going on for months to avoid and/or mitigate travel problems in Idaho as the state's entire population could nearly double ahead of an event that will last about three minutes.
Salt Lake City-based Blyncsy is making a name for itself in the business of collecting and analyzing movement data. A sensor developed by the company captures digital handshakes — the signals sent out by mobile devices like cellphones, laptops and tablets — and uses that information, via proprietary data analysis developed by the company, to monitor things like travel times, flow and movement, road reliability and vehicles that may be causing congestion or delays.
Blyncsy's technology will help Idaho transportation managers identify and pinpoint anomalies before they become full-fledged issues.
"Our digital dashboard, which interfaces with Blyncsy's technology, allows us to really drill down into what's happening on our roads," Redding said. "We can see exactly where traffic has slowed or stopped and immediately deploy help.
"We no longer have to wait for an accident or disabled vehicle report to come in through a call to our state patrol's dispatch center."
Adding to the advantages of real-time monitoring is a just-released mobile app, developed by Blyncsy for the Idaho Transportation Department, that could help keep would-be astronomers out of trouble during the upcoming mass in-migration (which has been further spurred by recent reports that the Idaho cities in the path of totality are likely to have some of the best viewing-compatible weather on Aug. 21.)
Victor Gill, Blyncsy's chief of products, said the app, called simply I-15, is the first consumer mobile application developed by the company and one that it hopes will put the power of the company's data analytics into drivers' hands.
"Being able to share the data we collect and give it usefulness to everyday commuters is a powerful tool," Gill said. "This is insight that drivers really haven't had before."
The I-15 mobile app, available for free on the iOS and Android operating systems, allows users to see real-time reports on expected travel times, as well as receive notices for the areas they're traveling in and even plan trips, where the app will help identify the best departure dates/times for optimum efficiency. The app also identifies the locations of road construction areas. While "I-15" is the app's name, it also provides information on other major Idaho thoroughfares like U.S. 20 and U.S. 91 which, like I-15, are expected to carry record volumes of traffic in the days before and after the eclipse.
Blyncsy has been collecting movement data on Idaho roadways since 2015, so the information that is relayed to both the Idaho Transportation Department control center, and drivers on the road, has the benefit of a deep data set, which helps improve the accuracy of predicting what impacts certain speed and flow changes will have on travelers. What is less easy to predict is how the mass of eclipse visitors will behave in light of the crush of traffic in and around the optimum eclipse viewing areas.
"One of the biggest challenges for traffic engineers is the variability of human behavior," Gill said. "People are weird and do weird things but our data should help Idaho's traffic managers and drivers respond in the best way they can to however it plays out."