Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

Boston, Massachusetts

#8-Most Congested
#10-Population (4,523,000)
INRIX® National Traffic Scorecard 2009

map of Boston, Massachusetts

The Plan

The Boston evacuation planning documents provided by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) constitute the State's most current evacuation plan for the region. The plan extends as far as Route 128 and to I-95. The city of Boston has not had a reason to evacuate, except in a limited response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. Though Cape Cod has prepared plans to evacuate should a hurricane hit, they have not had to execute the evacuation plan.

The MassDOT plans to augment the plan with further updates in 2010. To date, the Massachusetts State Police has identified 184 traffic control points in the Metropolitan Boston area that would require the deployment of law enforcement personnel and transportation resources to facilitate the flow of traffic away from the city. The MassDOT plans to review these points with the State Police and identify what specific MassDOT resources in the form of equipment, systems, vehicles and personnel would be best deployed to the points to support the flow of traffic. Plans to procure consultant support for this endeavor are being activated. This will be followed by a traffic modeling study to be completed by the Central Transportation Planning Staff that will validate assumptions and/or identify other considerations, including how transit organizations could support the effort.

The MassDOT reports the revision will be completed during the summer of 2010, and the modeling study completed by the end of the year. Once the work addressing the traffic control points has been completed, the results will become an annex to the State's comprehensive emergency management plan.

Should an evacuation occur, MassDOT would rely on the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to activate mutual aid agreements with local cities and towns. The State's concept of operations comes from the working relationship that includes MassDOT, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Massachusetts State Police, MEMA and the Department of Fire Services.

Boston currently benefits from a Homeland Security Grant to address evacuation planning as a part of catastrophic planning. The DHS/FEMA Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program (RCPGP) provides catastrophic events planning grants to the 10 highest risk urban areas and surrounding regions, including: Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Boston, Honolulu, Norfolk, and Seattle.

Top Highway Impediments

Top Highway Impediments

  • Contraflow Constraints
  • Shoulders May Not Be Able to Support Additional Evacuation Traffic
  • No Place for Sheltering

The interviewees reported that the following impediments would impact a large-scale, mass evacuation from the Boston area:

  1. Contraflow Constraints - Many of the roads in the Boston metropolitan area do not lend themselves to contraflow as the roads have multiple access points and off ramps. As the roads are very "exit heavy" it would be very labor intensive to manage a contraflow effort.
  2. Shoulders May Not be Able to Support Additional Evacuation Traffic - Shoulders—or the dirt area off the road commonly called the breakdown lane—in the Boston area may not be used to consistently to support the safe flow of traffic. While motorists may use these to get through congested areas, shoulders cannot support the added traffic associated with an evacuation for extended periods of time, and their use would negatively impact the ability to use the shoulders for emergency service operations.
  3. No Place for Sheltering - Once evacuees have left the city center, there are no large areas along the roadways that could be utilized to shelter motorists and large populations.

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