AASHTO Journal

Transportation Systems Brace for Irma, Still Recovering From Harvey

For the second time in less than a month part of the nation braced for a massive hurricane that was disrupting all modes of transportation, as Irma approached Florida while the Texas Gulf Coast was still trying to recover from Harvey's destruction.

Irma was described as one of the most powerful hurricanes to approach out of the Atlantic Ocean, and it devastated some Caribbean islands before turning northward on a projected path that would take it up the entire length of Florida and then into the broader Southeast.

So many Florida motorists were filling up their gas tanks to evacuate by car that stations ran dry. Gov. Rick Scott said Sept. 7 he had directed state police to escort refueling trucks "so they can quickly deliver fuel to gas stations along evacuation routes."

capitol0816.jpgScott also rescinded all truck weight and driver restrictions for Florida highways "so water, food, fuel and emergency supplies can be quickly brought to Florida." He said that at his request the same restrictions had been waived in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina.

The governor also directed the state Department of Transportation to suspend all tolls on Florida highways "for the duration of the storm's impact" to help spur travelers to use more routes to evacuate and later return to the area.

The Florida DOT suspended contractors' construction work, added to its normal number of "road ranger" patrols to assist motorists with vehicle problems, and monitored highway cameras in 13 traffic management centers to help keep the heavy traffic moving.

At the USDOT, Secretary Elaine Chao directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to issue a regional emergency declaration in advance of Irma that covered most of the Southeast plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Amtrak said it would cancel passenger train service for Sept. 8 and 9 for some trains, others for Sept. 8 through 11.

Airlines reportedly began adding flights and larger planes to meet demand for seats out of the storm zone, before the storm's arrival would cancel flights.

The Coast Guard warned cargo and cruise ships at area seaports to make plans to get out, and said inbound vessels should plan for alternate destinations.

Cruise cancellations in Miami left some passengers in a bind, the Miami Herald reported Sept. 7, with airlines already canceling flights and selling last-minute tickets at high fares.

Meanwhile, Congress was passing legislation to bolster disaster relief accounts in the wake of Harvey in Texas and with Irma fast approaching.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott created a "Governor's Commission to Rebuild Texas" and launched a series of visits into storm areas including Houston and Corpus Christi, accompanied by heads of various state agencies including the DOT.

And USDOT Secretary Chao on Sept. 3 reported that the department's response to Harvey included damage assessments and rebuilding support by the Federal Highway Administration, emergency trucking and rail notices, monitoring of energy pipeline activity and the Maritime Administration's activation of two National Defense Reserve Fleet vessels and a Marad training ship to support relief efforts in Texas. 

One would be moored at Galveston, the announcement said, and would help recovery efforts by providing power, housing, food and water to first responders. "Combined, these three vessels can house over 1,200 workers thereby freeing up local hotel resources for displaced individuals," the USDOT said.

Above: Map of Irma's projected path, from National Hurricane Center as of midday Sept. 8. Red denotes current hurricane warnings. M is for major hurricane with wind speeds greater than 110 mph. H is for winds of 74-110 mph. D is for winds less than 39 mph.

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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