Creating Efficient Hurricane Evacuation Plans for Texas Gulf Coast

Creating Efficient Hurricane Evacuation Plans for Texas Gulf Coast

May 31, 2023
Rick Ibarra, PE, PTOE

Note: This blog first appeared on the website of Texas-based DEC, now a part of Gannett Fleming.

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, now a part of Gannett Fleming, 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.

Our traffic engineers are experienced in developing evacuation, 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. Our team recently completed a plan for I-10 between San Antonio and Schulenburg and is updating the plan for I-37 from Corpus Christi to San Antonio.

Strategies for Efficient Evacuations: Traffic Control and Detour Plans

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.

Critical Communication: Digital Sign Placement and Messaging

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.

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 this TxDOT resource.

Rick Ibarra, PE, PTOE
Traffic Engineering Manager

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