Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

Executive Summary

An image of a pole with an oblong Evacuation Route sign and below that is an Upright Arrow sign attached.

Almost 5 years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita battered Louisiana and Texas, respectively, public officials remain focused on the Nation's ability to safely evacuate large numbers of people. As a part of the Fiscal Year 2010 U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) appropriations (Public Law 111-117), the U.S. Congress requested the DOT, in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to:

  • assess mass evacuation plans for the country's high-threat, high-density areas and identify and prioritize deficiencies on those routes that could impede evacuations, and
  • conduct an analysis of how national highway system (NHS) projects under construction west of the National Capital Region (NCR) could increase the NCR's evacuation capacity and provide a detailed plan to accelerate such projects.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) addressed this request in two phases. First, it collaborated with DHS and internal stakeholders to identify the top 26 metropolitan areas in the country that would meet the "high-threat, high-density" criteria, but would also be representative of areas based on geographic locations and threat variances (e.g., hurricanes, hazardous materials releases, wildfire-urban interface issues, floods, and terrorist threats). The FHWA reviewed existing plans from the 26 locations and conducted interviews of FHWA Division staff, State and/or local transportation officials and State and/or local emergency management and homeland security professionals. The interviews resulted in the State and local descriptions of their plans, as well as their view of the top impediments that would frustrate mass evacuation operations. The following chart illustrates a general summary of the top impediments reported by the jurisdictions. The FHWA decided not to extrapolate further findings from these as differences in local situations make definitive findings difficult to capture. However, it is clear that jurisdictions share several common perceptions of what might impede their mass evacuation plans (e.g., day-to-day congestion, infrastructure constraints, and communications equipment and frequencies). Many of the interviewees noted that while contraflow operations, or reversal of lanes, may be practical for hurricane-prone States, it would not constitute a viable option to a quick-onset incident. However, some interviewees also noted that large-scale, mass evacuations would be extremely unlikely, especially in the case of certain "quick-onset" incidents, and for many incidents it would be preferable for citizens to shelter-in-place rather than evacuate.

Summary of Jurisdictional Perceptions of Impediments by Location
Location Top Impediments/Challenges
Atlanta, GA Contraflow Constraints; Infrastructure Limitations; Arterial Road Systems with Overpasses Cannot Accommodate Trailer Heights; Bridge Weight Restrictions Impede Movements; and Traffic Data is Scattered Throughout the Region
Baltimore, MD Evacuation Plan Needs Updating; Infrastructure Impediments-Roadways; and Region Lacks a Coordinated Signal Timing System
Boston, MA Contraflow Constraints; Shoulders May Not be Able to Support Additional Evacuation Traffic; and No Place for Sheltering
Charleston, SC Infrastructure Constraint I-26; East-West Evacuation Routes; Lane Restrictions; ITS Capabilities along Evacuation Routes; and Incident Responder Coverage Along I-26, Charleston to Columbia
Chicago Traffic Congestion; Emergency Vehicle Access; Railroad Crossing/Street Blockage; Contraflow Operations Would Impede Evacuations; and Real-Time Highway Information for Responders and Public
Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX Infrastructure Limitations; Lack of Cameras along Key Routes; and Evacuation Plans Do Not Exist
Denver, CO No Evacuation Plan; No Evacuation Routes Identified; No Lane Assignments for Emergency Services; Infrastructure Limitations; Traffic Flow Analysis on Evacuation Routes; and Weather Hindrances
Detroit, MI Infrastructure Conditions Impede Responder Operations; Congestion; and Bottlenecks on Freeways, including Narrow Freeway Lanes and Limited Shoulders
Hampton Roads, VA Traffic Signal Timing; Number of Water Crossings; Limited ITS Deployment Along Key Evacuation Routes; Flood-Prone Infrastructure; and Human Resources to Manage Evacuation Operations and Tools
Houston, TX Bottlenecks; Communications with the Public; Number/Type of Resources to Deploy; More CCTV Cameras; and Modeling Timeliness
Jacksonville, FL Work Zones; Limited Fueling Stations; No DMSs on westbound I-10; and No ITS Deployment on Key Interstates
Las Vegas, NV Insufficient Lanes and Daily Congestion; Coordination with Other States on Evacuation Routes; Communications Systems Would Not Support Evacuation Operations; Deployable Traffic Signs and Evacuation Route Signage; and Traffic Flow Monitoring
Los Angeles, CA Congestion and Evacuation Route Capacity; Communications Capabilities; and Public Outreach and Understanding Evacuation Process
Miami, FL Insufficient Road Capacity; Damage to Critical Infrastructure; Work Zones on Major Routes; Traffic Signal Timing; and Lack of ITS Devices on Major Arterial Roads
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN Infrastructure Capacity and Congestion; Lack of Coordinated Plan and Universal Agreement on the Benefits of Evacuation; Disconnected Transportation and Emergency Operations Centers; Need for More Signage and Public Education; Coordination of Signal Timing Plans; Address Equipment Gaps for Pedestrian Movements; and Develop Multiple Options for River Crossing
National Capital Region (DC, MD & northern VA) Regional GIS Database; Traffic Signal Coordination on Arterials; Limited Roadway Capacity; Institutional Coordination; Communication Interoperability and Protocols; and VIP Movements and Security
New Orleans, LA Highway Flooding; Additional ITS Capacity; Insufficient Capacity; and Lack of Emergency Lanes
New York City, NY Infrastructure Condition and Limitations; Need Improved Coordination between State/Local Transportation Officials and Responders; Limited Deployment of ITS Impact on Sharing Situational Awareness Data; Weather Impacts; and Need for Public Information Campaign
Philadelphia, PA Expressway Congestion; Need for Situational Awareness; Emergency Signal Timing Coordination; Operational Coordination; and Toll Waivers
Phoenix, AZ Communication Capabilities; Community Outreach and Education Program; Rural Evacuation Route Signing and Information (public outreach) Strategy; Mass Evacuation Regional Command and Control Center; and Evacuation Route Signing
Portland, OR Bridge Vulnerability; Capacity and Infrastructure Limitations; Communications and Coordination with Neighboring Jurisdictions and the Public; Communications and ITS Technology for Incident Operations; Improved Traffic Management and Safety; More Robust Planning for Evacuation Operations; and Identification and Use of Resources
San Diego, CA Communication Capabilities; Evacuation Route Capacity; and Need Public Outreach Campaign
San Francisco, CA Communication Capabilities if Damaged; and Infrastructure (Roads, Bridges and Overpasses) along Evacuation Routes
Seattle, WA Congestion; Limited Infrastructure; and Insufficient Responder Resources to Manage an Evacuation
St. Louis, MO Limited Capacity; and Highway Capacity and Bridges
Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL Highway Infrastructure Capacity; Bridge Infrastructure Capacity; Bridge Vulnerability to Damage; Highway Vulnerability to Damage; and Limited Evacuation Routes due to Geographic Limitations

Summary of Jurisdictional Perceptions of top Impediments: General categories 1
General Categories Location Reporting as Top Impediment
Communications Equipment & Frequencies, Including Interoperability Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, National Capital Region (NCR), Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco
Communications with Responders or Public Houston, Portland
Congestion/Capacity Chicago (2), Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Miami, NCR, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa (2)
Contraflow Issues Atlanta, Boston, Chicago
Coordination, including with internal Partners, Responders & other States Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, NCR, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland
Evacuation Route Identification Denver
Infrastructure-Bridges & Overpasses Atlanta (2), Charleston, Portland, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa- St. Petersburg(2)
Infrastructure-Roads including Bottlenecks, Condition, Emergency Vehicle Access Lanes, etc. Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charleston(2), Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver(2), Detroit(5), Hampton Roads, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami(2), NCR, New Orleans(2), New York City, San Francisco, Seattle
ITS2 Infrastructure General Charleston, Hampton Roads, Jacksonville, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland
ITS-DMS Jacksonville
ITS-CCTV Traffic Cameras & Detectors Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, New Orleans
ITS-Ramp Metering Hampton Roads
Plans Need Updating or Developed Baltimore, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Portland
Plans-Alternate Modes of Transport Minneapolis-St. Paul
Public Outreach/Education Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, NCR, Philadelphia, Phoenix(2), San Diego
Real-Time Data Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia
Resources-Equipment for Pedestrian Movements Minneapolis-St. Paul
Resources-Fueling Stations Jacksonville
Resources-Responder Staff Charleston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Hampton Roads, Houston, Portland, Seattle
Safety/Service Patrols-Increased Presence Charleston
Sheltering Boston, Portland
Signage-Evacuation Route or Other Chicago, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix
TMC Data Sharing & EOC Connectivity Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Phoenix
Toll Waivers Philadelphia
Traffic Analysis or Modeling Denver, Houston
Traffic Control & Monitoring Chicago, Las Vegas
Traffic Signal Timing Baltimore, Hampton Roads, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, NCR, Philadelphia
VIP Movements & Security NCR
Weather or Geographic Hindrances Denver, Hampton Roads, New Orleans, NCR, New York City, Tampa- St. Petersburg
Work Zones Jacksonville, Miami

Table Notes

1 Where a parenthesis and number follow a location, e.g., Charleston (2), that indicates that two of Charleston's top impediments fall into this category.

2 Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) includes Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) Closed Circuit TV (CCTV), Traffic Cameras, Traffic Management Centers (TMCs), Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs), etc.

The second part of this study addressed how NHS projects under construction west of the NCR could increase the NCR's evacuation capacity. The FHWA conducted research and extensive interviews with FHWA Division staff and authorities from the States of Maryland and West Virginia, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Washington Council of Governments to discuss corridors and planned construction on the NHS and arterial routes that evacuees departing the NCR would use to evacuate the region. Through this research and interviews FHWA: (1) identified NHS roads that would qualify for this study, (2) analyzed NHS projects (or phases of large multi-phase projects) west of the NCR currently under construction that could increase evacuation capacity, and (3) provided options to accelerate NHS projects (or phases of large multi-phase projects) under construction.

image of a congested freeway

The FHWA reviewed the areas considered outside and to the west of the NCR and NHS routes in the following counties:

Virginia: Albemarle, Alleghany, Augusta, Bath, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Frederick, Greene, Highland, Madison, Nelson, Orange, Page, Rappahannock, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren.

Maryland: Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, and Washington.

West Virginia: Barbour, Grant, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hardy, Harrison, Jefferson, Marion, Monongalia, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, and Upshur.

Corridors studied include the following as depicted on the map below:

  • Northern Route: I-270 (MD) to I-70 (MD) to I-68 (MD) to I-68 (WV)
  • Central Route: I-66 (VA) to I-81 (VA) to the Appalachian Corridor H Alignment (VA-55 and WV-55)
  • Southern Route A: I-66 (VA) to I-81 (VA) to I-64 (VA) to I-64 (WV)
  • Southern Route B: US 29 (VA) to I-64 (VA) to I-64 (WV)

The FHWA gathered and analyzed information on ongoing highway projects (or phases of large multi-phase projects) west of the NCR that had the potential to increase evacuation capacity. This analysis revealed no ongoing projects that have the potential to increase evacuation capacity on either of the two southern NHS routes (US 29 to I-64 and I-66 to I-81 to I-64). Therefore, FHWA dropped both of these two routes from further analysis.

An image of a map displaying the Evacuation Routes west of the National Capital Region.

Through its research and interviews, FHWA identified opportunities to accelerate construction projects on the various routes studied. Since most opportunities to accelerate construction depend on innovative means to carry out project financing, project development, and contract administration, the research team consulted with numerous FHWA, Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA), Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), and West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) specialists in order to identify viable options for the identified projects. The FHWA has been a leader in identifying and advocating the use of contract administration and project finance options to accelerate construction time on all highway projects, with particular focus on large and complex projects. The table below summarizes which specific project finance and contract administration options examined in this study have been, or will be, considered by the MDSHA and the West Virginia Department of Highways (WVDOH) to accelerate construction, or time to construction, for the six projects (or phases of large multi-phase projects) identified that would increase evacuation capacity on key NHS evacuation routes west of the NCR.

Summary of Project Options to Accelerate Construction

Project Finance Options

Potential Revenue Sources:
Options Projects to Consider Options
User Fees  
State/Local Taxes  
Value Capture  
Federal-aid Grants Management:
Options Projects to Consider Options
Advance Construction I-70 Phase 4, Corridor H (All Phases)
Partial Conversion of Advance Construction I-70 Phase 4, Corridor H (All Phases)
Flexible Match  
Tapered Match  
Toll Credits (Soft Match) I-70 Phase 4
Transfers Between States Corridor H (All Phases)
Advances Between States Corridor H (All Phases)
Transfers Between Projects Corridor H (All Phases)
Federal Credit Programs:
Options Projects to Consider Options
Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA)  
State Infrastructure Banks (SIBs)  
Section 129 Loans  
Bonds/Debt Financing:
Options Projects to Consider Options
Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEEs) Corridor H (All Phases)
Availability Payments Corridor H (All Phases)
Shadow Tolls  
Private Activity Bonds (PABs)  
63-20 Issuance  
Build America Bonds (BABs)  

Contract Administration Options

Options Projects to Consider Options
Construction Manager At Risk  
Cost-Plus-Time I-70 Phase 4
Design-Build I-70 Phase 4, Corridor H (All Phases)
Design-Build-Maintain (Operate)  
Incentive/Disincentive (I/D) Provisions for Early Contract Completion I-70 Phase 4, Corridor H (All Phases)
Interim Completion Dates Corridor H (All Phases)
Multi-Parameter Bidding including Quality (A+B+Q Bidding)  
No Excuse Incentives  
Stipulated Sum I-70 Phase 4
Project Phasing I-70 Phase 4, Corridor H (All Phases)
Lane Rental  
Partnering I-70 Phase 4

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