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Patience, people: Count on traffic woes when crowds hit Ontario eclipse hotspots

Ontario drivers seeking to enter the path of totality to view Monday’s eclipse can expect to see more local and provincial police officers stepping up traffic enforcement.

Sgt. Kerry Schmidt says Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) will have an “enhanced level” of service for the event and will be monitoring roadways around the north side of Lake Ontario from Niagara Falls towards Ottawa and beyond into Quebec.

Hamilton, Kingston and Niagara Region will be areas of particular concern for the service since they have some of the best sight lines for April 8.

“It could be a very high migration of travellers heading south … approaching 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon,” Schmidt says.

“And when the event is done, unless they’re staying in town, everyone will want to get back.”

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He says OPP have been collaborating with regional police partners and the Ministry of Transportation sending messages around driver preparedness.

More likely than not prospective sightseers taking to major highways, like the QEW and 401, will undoubtedly face traffic closures, delays and detours Monday.

“You’ve got to pack your patience and have food, phone charging, full fuel tank … and all the basic necessities you would do for a winter storm emergency,” Schmidt suggested.

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati says he was caught off-guard when Niagara Region’s chair declared a state of emergency late last week citing the potential for thousands of visitors to see the eclipse.

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Diodati believes the move was to open up resources and potentially funding from other levels of government to deploy extra first responders.

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“It’s drawn more attention. Now it’s gone international,” Diodati said.

“Now we’re doing interviews all over the world because of it. So it’s kind of weird how it’s going to play out.”

Hotel vacancies and entertainment are messages he’s communicating as potential relief valves to shrink traffic.

Click to play video: 'Niagara Region declares state of emergency ahead of eclipse'

Niagara Region declares state of emergency ahead of eclipse

“We brought in entertainment not to bring more people, but to get them to stay a little longer so they don’t all leave at the same time right after the eclipse,” he said.

After an initial run on hotel rooms in March, venues like the Hilton Niagara Falls, Embassy Suites and Holiday Inn by the Falls still had room packages available for the weekend as of Tuesday.

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Kingston’s commissioner for infrastructure, transportation and emergency services says they’re preparing for some 500,000 to crowd city streets Monday.

Brad Joyce says most hotels in their locale have been booked for months and exactly how many people will end up in the city could come down to the weather.

He submits “the worst-case scenario”  would be clouds in Niagara Region and clear skies in Kingston forcing many travellers to pivot.

“We would have a massive influx,” said Joyce.

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To that end, Joyce says the city will close King Street from Barrie to Union Street for emergency traffic and transit only on April 8.

Like the OPP, Niagara Regional Police (NRPS) are also urging travelers to be “self-sufficient” and bring what they need in anticipation of difficulties picking up necessities when in the region’s cities Monday afternoon.

NRPS Const. Phil Gavin says those out of region waking up Monday morning and opting to head for the falls on a whim will likely find themselves scrambling to make it.

“Plan what it would look like if you’re stuck on the highway in traffic for three or four hours when you’re in your car with your children,” Gavin suggested.

“Are you prepared with snacks, food, water, medications (or) a blanket?”

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Niagara Park Police expect Queen Victoria Park will be the focal point for many sightseers on Monday since it features concerts with Glorius Sons and the Niagara Symphony Orchestra, in addition to a fireworks display.

With so many expected in the finite tourist area around the Niagara Parkway and Clifton Hill, the parks service has already said those roads will be closed starting at 11 a.m.

The parks service says dedicated WEGO shuttles will run from the Rapidsview Parking Lot to ease congestion.

As part of a first stage in preparations, NRPS has set up a web page providing information dedicated to eclipse sightseers and city residents.

The information is expected to be updated regularly until April 8.

GO Transit adds extra trips between Niagara Falls and Toronto’s Union Station

Metrolinx says it will boost service on April 8, adding a “special service” to and from Niagara Falls on the Lakeshore West line for those travelling to see the eclipse.

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The extra routes depart at 9:02 a.m., 10:02 a.m. and 11:02 a.m. from Union with return trips leaving the falls at 4:24 p.m., 4:54 p.m., 7:21 p.m. and 10:51 p.m.

Regular GO bus service will also be available for customers via Route 12 Niagara Falls/ Burlington.

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