Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida

#29-Most Congested
#19-Population (2,734,000)
INRIX® National Traffic Scorecard 2009

map of Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida

The Plan

The Plan Florida is one of the States that is at the forefront of emergency readiness, response, and planning. In 2005, Florida developed the plan for the Florida Intrastate 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 Contraflow Plan for I-75/Alligator Alley. The 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 the early 2000s. 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 Emergency Operations Center (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 vantage and supports 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.

The FDOT's District 7 (D-7) serves the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg metropolitan region. The region hosts a number of major routes that could support the mass evacuation of its inhabitants, including I-75 to the north and south, the Veterans Expressway and US 19 to the north, and I-4 to Orlando. Critical infrastructure in the greater Tampa region includes bridges and a causeway: The Howard Frankland Bridge, Grandy Bridge, and Courtney Campbell Causeway constitute three major facilities that support the evacuation of Pinellas County (St Petersburg). Damage to the bridges or causeways would significantly affect an evacuation operation in this area.

As with other major regions within Florida, the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg region maintains an evacuation plan and dedicates staff to the upkeep of the plan. The FDOT D-7 continually works with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, its MPO, to enhance the plan and other evacuation activities. As with all Florida regions, Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg region may provide the following assets to support evacuation:

  • FDOT safety/service patrols, known as "Road Rangers," in the Greater Tampa Bay Area.
  • "Asset Contractors" as well as FDOT Maintenance personnel for maintenance and work zone issues.

Respondents noted that the Greater Tampa Bay area maintains a number of well-coordinated, frequently reviewed and updated evacuation plans, which are incorporated into the State and/or local emergency management agency's evacuation plan. These include three "Reverse Lane" plans that impact the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area. The I-4 plan is well-established and has been tested twice for "set-up" response times. The I-75 plan is not complete and has not been tested. Finally, authorities recently completed the Leroy Selmon Crosstown Expressway Plan, and all involved agencies approved the product.

The current plan provided for the study represents the most recent version; however, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is in the process of updating the regional evacuation study as part of the Statewide Regional Evacuation Study program. The study relating to the Tampa Bay area was finished by March 2010. In addition, the Statewide Regional Evacuation Study program should be completed for the four-county (Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, and Pinellas) area in March. The findings will be incorporated into district and county plans. The area is in the process of implementing the use of new transportation analysis, evacuation models and user interface which should provide a much greater planning capability within the State of Florida.

Overall agreement within Florida dictates that the counties will cover motorist assistance on arterials within their boundaries during evacuations and the FDOT will be responsible for the Interstates. These plans have not been formalized and could be considered as the region without a formalized regional evacuation plan, per se. This may be viewed as a deficiency.

Preliminary discussions have taken place regarding transit plans and intra-regional light rail, especially a connection between Pinellas/Tampa International Airport/Tampa (USF area), to support evacuation from vulnerable areas to safer areas within the region. Preliminary discussions regarding the use of high speed rail for evacuation will be contemplated when the completion date for the first phase is known.

Top Highway Impediments

Top Highway Impediments

  • Highway Infrastructure Capacity
  • Bridge Infrastructure Capacity
  • Bridge Vulnerability to Damage
  • Highway Vulnerability to Damage
  • Limited Evacuation Routes due to Geographic Limitations

Respondents identified the most significant impediments along NHS routes that may impact effective large-scale, mass evacuations from the Tampa-St. Petersburg region, as follows:

  1. Highway Infrastructure Capacity - The capacity of existing facilities would be significantly exceeded during a mass evacuation.
  2. Bridge Infrastructure Capacity - Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg has a number of bridges and a causeway. These are the critical locations and bottlenecks for evacuation.
  3. Bridge Vulnerability to Damage - Some of these structures could be susceptible to "hydraulic lifting" which will impact the evacuation process.
  4. Highway Vulnerability to Damage - Hurricane winds or other hazards could damage the highway facilities and other devices on the facility.
  5. Limited Evacuation Routes (Geographic Limitations) - Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg has a very limited number of routes for evacuation due to waterways surrounding the region.

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