Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

Jacksonville, Florida

#49-Most Congested
#40-Population (1,313,000)
INRIX® National Traffic Scorecard 2009

map of Jacksonville, Florida

The Plan

Florida is one of the States that is on the forefront of emergency readiness, response and planning. In 2005, Florida developed the Contraflow plan for the Florida Interstate Highway System (FIHS). This plan identified the following routes that could be used for evacuation: Sarasota County's I-75 Shoulder Use Plan, Jacksonville's I-10 Contraflow Plan, Space Coast's SR 528 (Beeline Expressway) Contraflow Plan, Tampa Bay's I-4 Contraflow Plan, Florida Turnpike Contraflow Plan for Southeast Florida and Southeast/ Southwest Florida, and Contraflow Plan for I-75/Alligator Alley. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) State Traffic Engineering office in Tallahassee keeps the plans current. Within this office, the Deputy Traffic Engineer for Incident Management manages this program.

Florida has spent close to $1 billion to deploy ITS technology to enhance highway operations. As a part of that effort, the State migrated to a single statewide TMC Software (SunGuide) beginning in 2004. All TMCs across the State in Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and the Florida Turnpike in Orlando and southeast Florida use the SunGuide software. The State EOC in Tallahassee also installed the SunGuide software for use by the Emergency Support Function #1 (Transportation) liaison that operates at the EOC when activated during time of emergency operations. This single platform enables the State to share controls of cameras and other devices in real-time.

In November 2006, FDOT and the Florida Department of Emergency Management—in concert with FEMA—initiated the development of the comprehensive "Florida Catastrophic Planning Project," which considers two, large-scale incidents resulting in projected consequences of catastrophic proportions: a breach of the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD) around the waters of Lake Okeechobee and a Category 5 hurricane impacting the entire South Florida peninsula, which has a population of nearly 7 million.

This project includes data collection and comprehensive capability assessments of local, State, and Federal resources to support response to a failure of the HHD and a Category 5 hurricane striking South Florida. Analysis of the assessments and draft county plans will help to identify resource gaps, inconsistencies, and competing interests for limited resources.

For the purpose of this study, respondents reported that the State plan is current, the Florida Catastrophic Plan will be completed soon, and the FIHS Contraflow plan, published in 2005, undergoes continuous updates. While Florida maintains a robust support system for evacuations, local authorities call for an evacuation, and coordinate evacuation decisions with neighboring counties. The State views evacuation operations from a strategic view and supports the local efforts by ensuring requested assistance is available.

The FDOT also provides support to local jurisdictions during evacuation operations, for example, with FDOT service patrols. In addition, FDOT makes available DMS to support evacuations and maintains a vendor list of those that have these resources available during an incident. The demand for these units is at a premium during mass evacuations.

In the Jacksonville area, Florida District 2 (FDOT-D2), covering Central Office, the city of Jacksonville, Duval County, St. Johns County, and the First Coast MPO, developed a comprehensive plan for evacuation of the First Coast region. Officials from FDOT-D2 also implemented a comprehensive ITS program to support this activity, as well as a service patrol program which could support the evacuation efforts when needed.

The only evacuation plan that FDOT controls related to the Jacksonville area is the I-10 Contraflow Plan. In Florida, the county Emergency Manager is statutorily responsible for determining the evacuation routes in their county. The highest elected official (Sheriff or Mayor) is the only person that can call for an evacuation of a county in Florida. The FDOT only operates in a support role during evacuations. Every State road in Florida is considered an evacuation route.

The city of Jacksonville and Duval County maintain numerous evacuation plans, including those for countywide evacuations, downtown evacuations, beach evacuations, etc. They also retain scenario-based plans that deal with all incident types that could cause an evacuation, such as; hurricanes, tornadoes, nuclear release, terrorist attack, fire, etc. The FDOT sits as a member of their Planning Council and offers input and direction on all evacuation routes. Ultimately, the city/county authorities make the final decision on the implementation of an evacuation.

Respondents noted that authorities update all plans discussed during the interview on at least an annual basis. The Jacksonville evacuation plan covers an area approximately 60 miles to the west on I-10 from the western border to I-75. Once they approach I-75, the evacuee would then have the choice of going north-south or continue west into the Panhandle.

Top Highway Impediments

Top Highway Impediments

  • Work Zones
  • Limited Fueling Stations
  • No Dynamic Message Signs
  • No ITS Deployment on Key Interstates

The interviewees reported the following most significant impediments along NHS routes that may impact effective large-scale, mass evacuations from the Jacksonville metropolitan area.

  1. Work Zones - Work zones on I-10 at the interchange with I-95 and the addition of Interchanges on I-10 west of Jacksonville could impede evacuations in the short-term. These are the only issues on the NHS at this time. Provisions in the construction contracts note that during times of evacuation, the contractor will halt work and make available all lanes possible to handle evacuation traffic. Also, the contractors make available for FDOT use of all DMS, barricades, cones, etc., that are already set up on the construction site.
  2. Limited Fueling Stations - along the I-10 route.
  3. No Dynamic Message Signs - for westbound traffic on I-10.
  4. No ITS Deployments on Key Interstates - The lack of ITS tools on key roads could impede mass evacuations on I-10 west of I-295 and on I-95 in St. Johns County. For example, motorists being evacuated from South and Central Florida take this route, which has DMS and CCTV cameras up to the Flagler/St. Johns County line. From there, no ITS exists until the Duval County line.

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