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7.4 Transportation Impacts

Impacts to the transportation system depend on the incident. Two of the incidents resulted in little to no impact on the local transportation systems, while two others did have an impact.

7.4.1 El Dorado, Arkansas

There appeared to be no impact to the transportation system due to the El Dorado incident. The police department cordoned off the evacuation zone, and traffic was rerouted through town. The main north-south roadway, US 167, was closed, but traffic was rerouted around the downtown. This incident happened on a Sunday morning, but if it had occurred during the week, there would have been little impact on the traffic system.

However, since the residents of the nursing homes and prisoners at the county jail facility are without personal vehicles, ambulances and school buses were used to evacuate the nursing home residents and school buses were used to evacuate the prisoners.

Predominately, the method of transportation for the nursing home residents was the use of buses; however, approximately 15 to 33 residents required the use of ambulances for their evacuation. Six ambulances were utilized to evacuate these residents. Four ambulances were from the city and two were from the county.

7.4.2 Graniteville, South Carolina

There appeared to be little impact to the transportation system due to the Graniteville incident. The Aiken County Sheriff’s Office cordoned off the evacuation zone and traffic was rerouted through the community. The main thoroughfare (Aiken/Augusta highway), a four-lane roadway connecting Aiken, South Carolina, to Augusta, Georgia, was closed for over a week, but traffic was rerouted through the area onto parallel roads or Interstate 20.

In addition, roadblocks were established around the incident zone, and a curfew (dusk to dawn) was set to stop unauthorized people from entering the zone.

“Access [was] controlled early through traffic control points established quickly and efficiently due to recent training. Locations [were] determined based on major intersections and information received from 911 distress calls within first 15 minutes. Roadblock placement [was] reevaluated within first 30 minutes, and determined to be adequate based on wind direction and HazMat input,” as reported in the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office After-Action Report.

The train manifest from Norfolk Southern was available to fire and police either in 30 minutes or up to 2 hours from the time of the incident. Interviewees expressed cooperation from the railroad in identifying the chemicals.

7.4.3 South Salt Lake City, Utah

The Roper Rail Yard, scene of the hazardous material spill, is located near the intersection of Interstates 15 and 80, which were closed. In addition, due to the incident, local streets were also closed.

The police department, department of public safety, and highway patrol were involved in the closing of the roadways. Roadways were quickly blocked with barricades and barrels.

As the neighborhoods were evacuating, the local streets were barricaded with roadblocks to prevent the reentry of residents and the entry of unauthorized personnel.

At approximately 12:45 on Sunday, March 6, 2005, Interstates 15 and 80 were shut down, which took a little more than 1 ½ hours. Initially, Utah Department of Transportation resources were used to close the interstates. Once it was determined that the closure would take longer than anticipated, it was decided to use an authorized traffic management contractor to close down the interstates with barriers and electronic signs.

State troopers were sent to patrol and monitor the closed freeways to ensure motorists did not drive onto the roadways.

The main means of communication to the traveling public was using fixed and portable dynamic message signs, 511 travel services, highway advisory radio, and the commuter link Web site. It was felt that the notification worked well.

There was an initial backup of approximately 1 to 2 miles when the interstates were initially closed, but this was quickly dissipated. While not associated with this incident, the Utah Department of Transportation conducted a public opinion poll and found that 70 percent of people polled would change their travel pattern if information was provided. After the initial closure, traffic was manageable.

7.4.4 Big Bear Valley, California

There are three main evacuation routes out of Big Bear Valley; one to the west, which was closed, and two that are north and south of the valley. There was concern regarding the loss of the remaining roads as evacuation routes and possible accidents that would slow the progress of evacuees. The emergency community looked into the possibility of staging resources along the evacuation route to push vehicles off the roadway if necessary.   

The roadways in the valley did not allow for a quick evacuation. However, there were no incidents on the road; people were patient, and there were no recorded instances of flared tempers. People made the best of the situation.

Now, based on experience, the local emergency management community has an estimated time to evacuate the valley, in case this needs to happen again.

February 6, 2006
Publication #FHWA-HOP-08-014