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Hurricane Evacuation Plans Designed for Safe, Efficient Traffic Flow

When major hurricanes threaten heavily populated areas on the Texas Gulf Coast, officials must act quickly to evacuate millions of people safely and efficiently. They rely on detailed hurricane evacuation traffic plans, like those developed by DEC, to guide them as they plan and execute evacuations.

More than 1 million people evacuated the greater Houston/Galveston region before Hurricane Ike struck in 2008. An estimated 2.5 million-3.7 million people fled before Hurricane Rita made landfall in 2005, making it one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history.

DEC traffic engineers are experienced in developing evacuation plans, traffic control and detour plans, courtesy patrol routes, and information dissemination to help motorists and entities like the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) prepare for and execute effective evacuations. DEC recently completed a plan for Interstate Highway 10 between San Antonio and Schulenburg and is updating the plan for I-37 from Corpus Christi to San Antonio.

To move large volumes of vehicles, officials can designate highway shoulders as driving lanes and close some entrance and exit ramps. If a major evacuation is needed, officials may choose to implement contraflow operations, which allow evacuating motorists to use the opposing lanes for added capacity. This increases the number of evacuation lanes by rerouting northbound traffic onto southbound lanes. The evacuation plan provides the details to “flush” the highway of opposing traffic for contraflow operations and ensure no vehicles can enter the highway.

These major traffic pattern changes require a lot of manpower, communication and coordination between TxDOT, law enforcement and regional entities.

Evacuation plans include maps detailing traffic flow, digital sign placement and messaging, and traffic control equipment like barricades, cones and barrels. Plans detail staffing, material and equipment needs for road crews and courtesy patrols to assist motorists along the routes. Because communication with the traveling public is critical, plans identify locations for digital signs and the messages to be displayed. The plans even drill down to details like where to remove lane line buttons and how many and what kinds of barriers to place at entrance and exit ramps.

DEC Traffic Engineering Manager Rick Ibarra, PE, PTOE, said, “When a major hurricane threatens, time is of the essence. TxDOT staff can pull this plan off the shelf and follow it step by step to mobilize resources, set up traffic control, and safely and efficiently evacuate coastal residents.”

For information about hurricane preparedness and evacuation routes in your area, visit https://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/division/traffic/safety/weather/hurricane.html

ABOUT DEC TRAFFIC ENGINEERING SERVICES: Our goal is to provide transportation systems that prioritize efficient mobility and the safety of the traveling public. By using innovative and cost-efficient designs, we create custom solutions that result in successful projects and trusted relationships. Our experienced and diverse Traffic Engineering team is dedicated to providing exceptional services that meet the complex and unique needs of our clients and the communities they serve.

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