Acting on recommendations from the Florida Department of Transportation in the wake of Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott directed FDOT to implement both immediate and long-term actions to help residents, businesses and visitors during emergencies.
Florida saw the largest evacuation in U.S. history last September as the powerful hurricane bore down on the state, triggering heavy northbound traffic on major highways and fuel outages as the huge spike in demand hit while the state lacked enough available commercial drivers to operate refueling trucks.
Scott's Feb. 2 announcement noted that he had previously ordered FDOT to study ways to help speed traffic on evacuation routes from the I-75/ Florida Turnpike Interchange near Wildwood to the Florida-Georgia border, and ways to boost fuel capacity during storm emergencies. The department produced detailed reports and recommendations in January.
"As Florida continues to recover from Hurricane Irma, the largest storm to impact our state in modern history," Scott said, "it is critically important that we continue to do all we can to make sure our state is fully prepared in the face of any potential disaster."
He ordered the short-term evacuation-related improvements to be implemented no later than June. They include:
-Expanding emergency use of highway shoulders along key interstate routes. -Installing cameras and dynamic message signs on Interstate 75 from Ocala to the Georgia state line. -Increasing the department's Florida 511 website system to accommodate higher usage during emergencies.
For the long term, he directed FDOT to complete construction in 2019 of an interchange linking I-75 and the Florida Turnpike. He also directed the department to widen the turnpike in 2023 to six lanes from the Lake/Sumter county line to the CR 468 interchange, and from the CR 468 to I-75 in 2025.
In addition, Scott wants FDOT to study the potential for deploying traffic management systems along the US 19/98/27 route for emergency evacuation.
The governor said he wants short-term, fuel-related improvements to be implemented no later than July.
Those include FDOT working with the Division of Emergency Management and law enforcement to identify critical gas stations along state evacuation routes, and develop a plan for more efficient fuel service during emergencies.
FDOT will assess its options to expand fueling capacity for first responders at its existing department-owned facilities, and will coordinate with neighboring states on a communications plan to move oversize and overweight vehicles during emergencies.
Longer-term, Scott directed FDOT to assess options for additional fuel storage and dispensing facilities at fuel terminals in collaboration with Florida ports and the fuel industry.
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