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Eclipse updates: I-985 a heavy mix of returning eclipse and rush-hour traffic
Eclipse traffic
Northbound traffic was bumper to bumper Monday morning on Interstate 985. - photo by Norm Cannada
Interstate 985 a heavy mix of returning eclipse and rush-hour traffic

Evening rush hour and solar eclipse viewers returning home are making for a perfect storm of bad traffic on Interstate 985.

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s real-time traffic website, 511ga.org, shows heavy traffic on Interstate 985 in Hall County, primarily between Jesse Jewell Parkway and Mundy Mill Road.

Earlier, Georgia State Patrol Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Coleman said that traffic was “heavy along routes heading home from solar eclipse viewing,  but it seems to be flowing good.”

“It gets really heavy at times, then thins out,” he said. “Hopefully, everyone is leaving their location at various times to help with the flow.”

Basically, the traffic pattern is the reverse of travel this morning, as motorists headed to eclipse viewing spots in the North Georgia mountains.

I-985 becomes Ga. 365 at Jesse Jewell Parkway, with Ga. 365 heading to cities such as Blairsville and Clayton, where people could view a total eclipse of the sun. The eclipse in Hall County was between 98 and 99 percent.

Katie Strickland, DOT district spokeswoman, said drivers “need to be patient, be responsible for their own driving and understand that when you’re coming up to the Northeast Georgia mountains, everybody is using the same state routes.”

Traffic could be just as bad in the evening as people are returning home, she added.

An estimated 53,000 motorists were expected in extreme Northeast Georgia, the DOT has said.

The DOT expects many people would rely on Ga. 15/U.S. 441 and Ga. 2/U.S. 76 to reach eclipse destinations in Rabun, White, Habersham, Towns and Union counties.

“We will treat (Monday) similar to a holiday travel weekend due to the volume that will be traveling into and back out of the mountain areas for various eclipse events,” DOT district engineer Brent Cook has said.

About a quarter of students stay home

Hall County and Gainesville school systems reported that about a fourth of students didn’t come to school Monday and more were checked out of school by parents or guardians before the eclipse began.

Both districts extended the school day by one hour so students could view the eclipse at school, but officials told parents they could check students out early.

Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Hall, said about 55 to 75 percent of students in his district were not in school by the time the eclipse occurred. About 27 percent of those students were absent from school and an additional 30-50 percent checked out, according to initial numbers Bales received.

Gainesville City School System spokeswoman Lynn Jones said the absentee rate in her district was nearly 25 percent in kindergarten through fifth grade. Middle and high school absentee numbers were not available. Jones released numbers that showed nearly 1,100 students were checked out before the eclipse.

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