Why no contraflow to ease interstate congestion?

With evacuation traffic backing up on Interstate 75, many Floridians are wondering why the state is not enacting contraflow, the plan to reverse traffic and use all lanes of the highway to let people drive north.

Florida is a long, narrow state with only two north-south interstates.  When evacuations are ordered, that doesn’t leave a lot of options – a frightening lesson the Sunshine State learned 18 years ago during Hurricane Floyd.

The state ordered 1.3 million people to evacuate, so more than two million jumped in their cars and clogged hundreds of miles of interstates for more than 20 hours.

They would have been sitting ducks, had the storm not pulled east.

Governor Rick Scott said Friday that evacuees should try to stay local to prevent a variety of traffic problems.

"You can go inland a little ways to get away from it. I would check that first before you drive a long distance,” he said from Tampa.  “If you can evacuate and stay in your county, that's what you should be doing.”

“You do not have to go to Georgia to be safe,” added Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Interstates 75 and 95 are the only roads approved for use in contraflow mode.  But troopers say it’s not necessary right now – traffic is generally flowing, they insist – and it creates other problems.

“Contraflow blocks essential southbound lanes needed to bring supplies to shelters and families in the southern part of the state,” FHP spokesman Lt. Gregory Bueno stated.  “Contraflow also inhibits emergency vehicles from reaching people in need, and removes law enforcement from critical life safety tasks.”

Instead, troopers have implemented what they call a limited emergency shoulder use plan for I-75 from Wildwood to the Georgia state line. Motorists can use the left shoulder as an additional lane when directed by law enforcement and signage.

The Florida Highway Patrol offers these tips for save evacuations:

• Motorists are encouraged to monitor the changing weather conditions and adjust their driving as necessary:

• Make sure your vehicle is fueled up and well serviced before you hit the road. Fuel availability may be questionable and what is available is sure to generate extremely long lines.

• Carry a supply of food and water for each member of the traveling party.

• During toll suspensions, continue to have cash available at all times. Just because tolls are suspended on one segment of the Turnpike does not mean they are suspended system wide. When you approach a plaza at which the tolls are suspended, SLOW DOWN and be conscious of other motorists.

• Have a specific destination in mind and the route planned well in advance of your departure. When you travel be sure to carry any appropriate maps along inside your vehicle.

• When possible evacuate tens of miles instead of hundreds of miles.

• Please pack a lot of patience and be prepared for delays. Significant traffic delays are inevitable in a state as densely populated as Florida. Again, it is important to try and avoid the rush and depart earlier rather than later.

• Stay put – Avoid driving in heavy storms, and stay in a safe place after the storm. Be prepared to remain where you are for an extended period of time. Often, injuries and deaths occur in the aftermath of storms. Sightseers impeding roadways cause obstacles for emergency personnel responding to those in need.

• Slow down –. The roads remain slick after the storm so if you have to drive, decrease your speed to avoid hydroplaning.

• Buckle up – When it is finally safe to venture out, take the extra time to buckle your seatbelt. It is the law in Florida, and statistics continue to show that seatbelts save lives. Four of the reported deaths related to Tropical Story Fay involved motorists who were not wearing their seatbelts.

• Be cautious of high winds – Windy conditions adversely affect all vehicles, particularly high profile vehicles, such as buses and trucks, as well as motorcycles. Gusty wind makes driving difficult, especially when it is rapidly changing speed and direction.

• Turn around; don’t drown – Prepare for standing water. Never drive through flooded areas, even if you are familiar with the roads. The area of roadway you cannot see beneath the water may be washed out or the water may conceal debris, tree branches or even power lines.

• Pay attention – You may come up on an intersection that is no longer controlled by a traffic control device. If a police officer is directing traffic, follow their directions. Otherwise, treat the intersection as you would treat an intersection governed by a four-way Stop sign.

• Flooding safety – Never drive into moving water. If you cannot see the roadway beneath the water, do not drive through it! The water may be deeper than it appears, and the road may be washed away.