As thousands of Floridians take to roadways to escape Hurricane Irma while there’s still precious hours left to do so, one question keeps surfacing:
Why aren’t state officials making the state’s largest arteries — the Turnpike, Interstate 75 and Interstate 95 — one-way roads north so people can evacuate faster?
State officials say doing so would limit their ability to pre-position supplies before the storm hits and, as of Friday morning, they don’t have any plans to reverse the flow of southbound traffic, a process they call “contraflow.”
“We still need southbound lanes to get needed gas and supplies down to shelters and families that need it the southern parts of the state,” Gov. Rick Scott said at a morning briefing in West Palm Beach. “Contraflow also inhibits our ability to get emergency vehicles to people that need them.”
The Florida Department of Transportation noted, too, that it would require substantial manpower from the state Highway Patrol and local law enforcement to guide traffic and ensure no one went the wrong way on exit or entrance ramps. They say those duties would take troopers and officers away from other preparation plans.
State officials are constantly monitoring traffic flows on Florida’s main highways using a bank of video monitors at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. Real-time traffic information for the public is available at fl511.com.
DOT Director Mike Dew told the Herald/Times Friday morning that “traffic is continuing to flow,” even with “pockets of congestion.”
“Right now, there’s no need for contraflow because everything has continued to flow,” he said. “We’re focused on making sure traffic continues to flow and we’re working closely with law enforcement to make sure that that happens.”
By comparison, in Georgia — where Irma’s blow should be weaker — Gov. Nathan Deal ordered on Thursday for contraflow to begin Saturday morning on Interstate 16, so that eastbound lanes would flow west away from evacuation zones along the Atlantic Coast.
However, just because Florida’s roads aren’t shifting to one-way doesn’t mean the state isn’t taking steps to ease traffic jams.
One of the worst bottlenecks on both Thursday and Friday was at the I-75 interchange in Wildwood, where the Turnpike ends and merges with the interstate.
By mid-morning Friday, state officials were allowing motorists to begin driving on the shoulder of I-75 from that interchange north to the Georgia line.
FDOT and FHP advised that motorists should use only the left shoulder “when directed by law enforcement and highway signs.”
Driving on the shoulder is still not allowed on any other stretch of roadway, the agencies said.