Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
(Urban Area)

#10-Most Congested
#5-Population (5,838,000)
INRIX® National Traffic Scorecard

map of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Plan

The Philadelphia urban area published the "Southeastern Pennsylvania Emergency Transportation Plan" in June 2009. The regional plan includes routes to be used and provides for the estimation of evacuation times and covers four suburban Pennsylvania counties surrounding the city of Philadelphia—including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties—plus the city of Philadelphia. Philadelphia maintains its own plan, and planners integrated the Philadelphia City plan into the regional plan. It also integrates the five county-specific Emergency Response plans created by the Emergency Management Agencies into a unified plan for the region. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Task Force coordinated plan development with Lancaster, Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties, the States of New Jersey and Delaware, and turnpike authorities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Task Force conducted post-development outreach on the plan with adjacent regions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, as well as other Pennsylvania partner task forces that adjoin the Southeastern Task Force and cover Allentown and Harrisburg. Currently the plan encompasses five south-eastern Pennsylvania areas (estimated population of 4.3 million) and ranges from about 30 miles west of Philadelphia to 30 miles north and south.

City officials note that additional work needs to be performed, especially analyzing individual evacuation routes through the conduct of traffic modeling studies. Officials report that they do not expect the routes being used for evacuations to change as a result of the traffic modeling exercise. Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Task Force members do anticipate that this effort will help improve regional coordination over time. Interviewees also expect improvements through the use of task forces that will support and manage key locations during an event. Responders with jurisdiction over the specific areas indicate that ITS tools will aid in situational awareness and enhance the use of available resources. The plan will be updated to further study each evacuation route in more detail. The Task Force hopes to update the regional plan and maps every 2 years. Municipal and county evacuation plans may be reviewed as often as every 12 months.

Top Highway Impediments

Top Highway Impediments

  • Expressway Congestion
  • Need for Situational Awareness
  • Emergency Signal Timing Coordination
  • Operational Coordination
  • Toll Waivers

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

  1. Expressway Congestion - Major expressway routes in the Philadelphia area would not be able to handle surge in traffic from a large-scale, mass evacuation. Lack of dedicated HOV or bus lanes would also hamper attempts to conduct mass evacuations. Long-term construction also adversely affects available capacity. In most cases, only a two-lane Interstate/expressway would be available for use by evacuees. This would physically limit the Region's ability to use a contraflow strategy to reverse lanes. Moreover, most NHS arterials that lead out of the area are single lane, which would cause considerable congestion during an evacuation operation.
  2. Need for Situational Awareness - There is a lack of situational information available about congestion, construction activity, or incidents on arterial highways. Those interviewed stated that ITS and signal timing (see #3, below) constitute key elements to ensuring expeditious travel. Philadelphia's EOC and 911 Center have benefited greatly from their ability to view real-time traffic cameras on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) system since 2004. However, current technology implementation of CCTV and DMS has only reached the Interstates/urban expressways in the area and is not yet deployed on the arterials. Philadelphia needs consistent situational awareness capability shared by the EOCs, DOT TMC, and State and local police and local municipalities.
  3. Emergency Signal Timing Coordination - Municipalities own and operate traffic signals in Pennsylvania. Even though most of the NHS arterials have signal systems, it will be nearly impossible to implement emergency signal timing plans. Potentially 100+ municipalities will have to be contacted and told which timing plans to implement, and many municipalities do not have the expertise to quickly change timing plans. Those interviewed noted that the management of signals (placing emergency timings into place to aid an evacuation) by the TMC would be an important function that could be carried out by the operators when needed.
  4. Operational Coordination - Coordination is a major issue. In the Philadelphia urban area there are 9 counties, 375 municipalities (this includes both the NJ and PA portions of the region), and 6 toll authorities; and this does not include Delaware, less than 40 miles from Philadelphia. Due to local home rule, most municipalities operate their own police and public works departments; municipalities can have multiple fire companies. To develop and execute an evacuation plan requires working with the municipalities, counties, State police, and toll authorities. Ultimately, they will be responsible for closing expressway ramps, staffing traffic control points, and directing lost motorists. Additional connectivity of ITS tools (such as cameras), additional monitoring systems along corridors, and TIM equipment and resources (such as Safety/Service Patrols and TMCs) among States would greatly enhance operational coordination of mass evacuations.
  5. Toll Waivers - With tolling affecting two States involved in mass evacuations in the Philadelphia area, the question "Who will decide to waive tolls during an emergency?" remains an important topic in the region.

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