February 22, 2006
TxDOT responds to evacuation task force report

In response to the release of the report by the Governor's task force on hurricane evacuations, TxDOT says it's already doing a lot of the things it's been called upon to do.

Janelle Gbur, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation's Houston district, said construction is under way to remove the bottleneck on I-45 North (the North Freeway) where it narrows from four lanes in each direction to two at FM 1488 near The Woodlands. During the Hurricane Rita evacuation in September, this chokepoint brought traffic to a standstill for miles.

Gbur said the highway is scheduled to become a continuous four-lane road all the way to Conroe in 2008, but she noted that "we're just moving the jam farther north" unless the number of evacuees can be reduced.

Planners also need to educate people not to hit the road until they really need to, she said.

"A key point here is the public awareness," added TxDOT spokesman Randall Dillard in Austin.

As we discussed in the previous post, I think this is necessary, but not sufficient. Some number of people are going to respond to their own risk assessments no matter what the official proclamations are. I can't say that I won't be among those people, at least as long as I've got a small child in the house.

Most of this story is about various chokepoints - on-ramps, highway intersections and junctions, etc - that caused major problems during the Rita evacuation. Improvements and widenings can help in some cases, but as Gbur is honest enough to admit, you can't fix the I-45 logjam by adding lanes unless you do so for the entire length of the road. That's just not economically feasible, and would for the most part be a waste of resources.

Dillard said TxDOT and DPS will have a contraflow plan drawn up by the start of hurricane season June 1.

As a starting point, they can use the hastily devised measures set up during Hurricane Rita.

Improvements being considered include remote-controlled gates on freeway entrance and exit ramps, Gbur said.

She said a safety fence being installed on nearly 100 miles of the I-10 median between Houston and San Antonio will need escape hatches where drivers and emergency vehicles can cross over for emergencies.

And here we come back to the issues of expense and manpower. That's not a criticism - I think these ideas are fine - just an observation that we shouldn't expect a full solution to be ready by June 1. This is going to take time and a commitment to see it all the way through.

The full report is here, in its 4 MB PDF glory. I'll try to read it when I can. Feel free to beat me to it and comment on any aspect of it here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 22, 2006 to Hurricane Katrina | TrackBack

It’s a start. Why do I get the feeling that what little specifics mentioned in this document will not apply in the next emergency evacuation? How much did I pay for this?

One objective of the Task Force is lacking: Reinforce positive lessons. What worked? Clearly, Public Awareness, for instance, did not start and stop with our utility bill inserts.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on February 23, 2006 2:30 PM