The Texas Department of Transportation designed a contra-flow plan for the Houston area that will apply to portions of I-10, I-45, U.S. 59 and Highway 290. Contra-flow allows state and local officials to shut down inbound lanes and turn them into additional outbound traffic lanes. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels says people need to know how these lanes work and where they'll start.
"They've put the contra-flow lanes in place where the freeways start to bottleneck down into a narrower group of lanes. So I-10, for example, going west has five lanes, four lanes, narrowing down a little bit as you get to Brookshire but at that point they open it up to continue the four lanes all the way to San Antonio. If you open the lanes up much earlier than that you just create another bottleneck as you get to Brookshire anyway, so there's a logic to where they put these lanes."
People evacuating from the area will be forced onto certain routes depending on which part of town they're in. If contra-flow lanes are in use, they will prevent drivers from exiting along the route. So basically, once you're on I-10, you're stuck on it until you get to San Antonio. Eckels says knowing where the routes will take you and how they work is important as residents put together their evacuation plans.
"It's hard to tell people that they can't go across town to pick up grandma and take her on to San Antonio if you live on the east end of the county, so there's a little less restrictions on how you move. But once you get on that contra-flow lane it will be difficult to get off, you will be going where that route takes you because for those lanes it's important that the traffic continue to flow."
The Texas Department of Transportation is in charge of implementing contra-flow lanes. TxDOT Spokeswoman Janelle Gbur says contra-flow doesn't mean cars will be flying down the freeway at top speeds. Evacuations will still take two or three times as long as a normal drive to San Antonio, Austin or Dallas.
"We don't want to give the public a false sense of security that contra-flow is somehow a cure-all, that congestion levels association with an evacuation are just going to go away. That simply is not the case. It will help move traffic along more quickly, but by all means we will still have high levels of congestion. Motorists that are evacuating must be prepared to deal with a long trip."
You can find maps of the contra-flow routes, along with hurricane season information on our website, kuhf dot org. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.