The Florida Department of Transportation on Thursday announced some important measures being taken for Tampa Bay residents trying to leave the area because of Hurricane Irma.
• First, most lane closures and detours have been suspended to allow traffic to flow more freely, said DOT spokesman David Botello.
• Officials are also addressing one of the biggest bottlenecks in the region: the Interstate 75 construction in Pasco County.
Officials on Thursday morning opened a third lane along the shoulder for northbound traffic. That third lane stretches just south of State Road 50 in Hernando County, Botello said.
"This added lane in Pasco will certainly help evacuees heading north," he said.
• There are currently no plans to reverse southbound lanes on area interstates to provide more capacity for those evacuating north, said Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins.
Some construction workers are still on the roads trying to get the area "storm ready," but their work does not involve closures, Botello said. Those measures include clearing debris that could clog drains, removing drums and barricades and taking extra erosion-control measures.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is currently open to all traffic, but would close in event of 40 mph winds or greater. There is no wind restriction on other area bridges, like the Howard Frankland or the Gandy, Gaskins said. Any potential closures of those bridges would be decided by the FHP based on weather conditions.
While DOT has taken local measures, those evacuating the Tampa Bay region will face bottlenecks elsewhere as residents of Miami-Dade and Monroe County residents obey evacuation orders there and flee their homes in anticipation of the category 5 storm's arrival this weekend. The Florida Turnpike, Interstate 95 and Interstate 75 are already clogged with traffic throughout the state.
More communities are following their lead. Pinellas County on Thursday issued a mandatory evacuation order for all Level A residents, those who live in low-lying areas and mobile homes. Levels B and C could soon follow on Friday.
All tolls have been suspended throughout the state because of the impending storm. Florida state officials have urged residents who want to evacuate not to delay — they should leave as soon as possible.
Real-time traffic updates are available from the state at fl511.com.
Fuel supplies are running low around the state, as state officials scramble to address the pre-hurricane demand. GasBuddy offers a tracker to find out which gas stations have fuel, so drivers know where they can gas up.
In the mean time, don't be surprised if you see caravans of law enforcement escorting fuel tankers. Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday morning that's one of the measures the state has taken to get fuel supplies to where they're needed most as shortages are reported throughout the state.