Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

Hampton Roads, Virginia
(Virginia Beach, Norfolk & Newport News)

#31-Most Congested
#35-Population (1,658,000)
INRIX® National Traffic Scorecard 2009

map of Hampton Roads, Virginia

The Plan

Authorities updated the Hampton Roads evacuation plan in 2009 (updates occur annually). The 2009 version includes transportation changes. Authorities integrated the Hampton Roads evacuation plan into State and local EMA plans.

The Commonwealth of Virginia maintains an evacuation plan only for Hampton Roads though they are currently working on a plan for the National Capital Region. The Commonwealth shares their evacuation plan with North Carolina. Every spring, North Carolina and Virginia meet to share plans with both the State and local agencies. The meeting rotates between Virginia and North Carolina each year. Although Virginia has never ordered an evacuation of the Hampton Roads area, North Carolina has had to evacuate its Eastern shore populations several times, particularly in response to a hurricane or tropical storm. In addition to coordination meetings with North Carolina, Virginia meets with neighboring States, including Delaware and Maryland, to update its plan. This occurs quarterly, where Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland representatives discuss issues of mutual concern, including evacuation planning.

The Commonwealth's Emergency Response plan incorporates the entire State due to the potential need for sheltering populations. Most pre-identified shelter sites lie along the I-81 corridor or other locations in western Virginia. The pre-identified shelters large enough to take care of people and animals are located on the campuses of universities in the western part of Virginia, including the University of Virginia and James Madison University.

Norfolk, one area within the Hampton Roads region, currently benefits from a Homeland Security Grant to address evacuation planning as a part of catastrophic planning. The DHS/FEMA 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

  • Traffic Signal Timing
  • Number of Water Crossings
  • Limited ITS Deployment Along Key Evacuation Routes
  • Flood-Prone Infrastructure
  • Human Resources to Manage Evacuation Operations & Tools

The interviewees reported the following most significant impediments along NHS routes that may impact effective large-scale, mass evacuations from the Hampton Roads region:

  1. Traffic Signal Timing - The limited ability to properly adjust traffic signal timing could impact the region's ability to evacuate populations.
  2. Number of Water Crossings - The Hampton Roads area has five bridge-tunnel crossings that hamper the ability to evacuate the population. These crossings are known bottlenecks during daily traffic and would be expected to be more so during evacuations.
  3. Limited ITS Deployment Along Key Evacuation Routes - The ITS technology is only deployed along the Interstates, though most evacuees would use US routes 460 and 58 and possibly 60 and 17. Having ITS on these routes would help manage evacuations.
  4. Flood-Prone Infrastructure - The Tidewater region is a low lying area and routes 17, 460, and 58 are prone to flooding so they would need to evacuate residents before the floods. The biggest concern would be back-to-back storms that would limit the ability to get to people before or during the second storm.
  5. Human Resources to Manage Evacuation Operations and Tools - Highway Advisory Radio (HAR) covers Tidewater routes in the Hampton Roads area. Also, statewide 511 provides real-time traveler information to regional motorists. However, both staff and contractor availability remains a significant issue that would limit the effectiveness of an evacuation. Though Virginia would depend on Commonwealth employees to staff contraflow operations, a contractor manages I-64. Though the contractors are supposed to help during these events, currently the task to do so is not included in their contract. The contract comprises a number of subcontractors, and it is unknown if the subcontractors will be available if needed. To staff the lane reversal, VDOT would have to pull in hundreds of VDOT staff from outside the area to help manage the activity.

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