Hurricane Season: Transportation and Evacuation

As Hurricane Rita took aim at Galveston, Houston highways became parking lots like never before. Cars ran out of gas and people ran out of supplies and patience. It was an evacuation on a scale never seen before in Houston. In part two of this week long series, Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports officials say things will be different next time ... but how different for the driver behind the wheel is another matter.

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For decades, emergency personal worried that Houstonians would not take a hurricane evacuation seriously. Hurricane Katrina fixed that.

"If we have the same level of departure from the Houston area this hurricane season as we had during Rita we are certainly in a better position to meet that demand."

Texas Department of Transportation Spokeswoman Janel Gbur says contra-flow, that is turning all lanes of traffic into outbound lanes, is now a part of evacuation plans. Houston Galveston Area Council Transportation Management Director Alan Clark says contra flow will go beyond the immediate surrounding area.

"the number of people needing, desiring to evacate is much greater than the next ring of smaller communities can accomodate. The San Antonio's, the Austin's, the Dallas-Fort Worth's, those will be the major destinations."

While details are still being worked out, the contra-flow plan looks something like this. For I-ten, the contra flow lanes will begin near Brookshire and continue to the outskirts of San Antonio. For I-45, it will start near the San Jacinto River at FM 1488 and continue to just south of Dallas. US 290 contra-flow would start around FM 1960 and continue to at least Hempstead. US 59 is not a recommended evacuation route for Houston because it's used by East Texas for evacuations.

"It is still influx though how many hours out we need to start that process before the public is called to do a mandatory evacuation."

A nearly state-wide drill this week will hopefully answer that question. What the drill won't answer is how long it'll take a family to get to their destinations. Officials hope it won't be as long as experienced last year, but don't expect standard drive times no matter where your headed. Families should have supplies, like water and food, in the car. But Gbur says families should not carry extra gas.

"We've also have private sector working with us to identify retailers along our evacuation routes to determine those who will quarantee to remain open during the hours of hurricane evacuation."

Officials are working on developing maps so evacuees will know where gas can be purchased. But Gbur says contra flow will complicate the plan because it restricts getting goods and services around. Tied to this, another key message for the public is to take one car.

"Because there were far more vehicles out there then actually necessary to move the poeple that needed to be moved. So we'll be stressing take a one-vehicle exudos for your evacuation. Don't pull those boats or campers or trailers."

Tomorrow, Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams continues the series taking a look at how the nearly statewide drill is going. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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