Changes to Florida's hurricane evacuation process

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Hurricane Irma saw 6.5 million Floridians take to the road.

The result? Major traffic jams.

Bradenton resident Darcy Bessette said, “Traffic was stop and go, stop and go. Bumper to bumper.”

It added hours to travel times.

Winter Park's Democratic representative, Carlos Guillermo Smith, stated, “There’s not many places they can go. They can take either I-95 North or they can take I-75 or they can take I-10 West. I mean, at this point when we have another disaster we’re going to have some problems with people trying to leave our state and there has to be a better process.”

The State Department of Transportation has gotten the go ahead to six-lane parts of I-75 between Tampa and the turnpike, and to reconfigure the interchange where the two meet.

What the DOT won’t do is reverse traffic to help evacuees get out and then back into the state. State Senator Jeff Brandes calls the reversals problematic.

Brandes said, “If you turn everything one way, then how do you get new trucks in, how do you get fuel trucks in, other safety vehicles in? Maybe you want to get the utility vehicles to come in. If they’re kind of pushing against traffic that doesn’t work very well.”

Short-term improvements call for increasing emergency shoulder use during future evacuations, expanding the DOT’s Florida 511 traffic website, and installing cameras and message signs along I-75.

The short-term fixes are scheduled to be ready by June 1st, the start of hurricane season, but some major construction projects won’t be ready until late 2019 and others until 2025.

The DOT plan also calls for the Division of Emergency Management to identify crucial gas stations along evacuation routes to prevent drivers from running out of gas during an evacuation.