Hurricane 2019: Tampa Bay is improving its evacuation routes. Do you know yours?

The executive director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council says residents need to know how to leave the area in case of a severe storm.
Residents along the path of Hurricane Matthew were ordered to evacuate the east coast of Florida in October 2016, resulting in back-ups along westbound Interstate 4 in the Champions Gate area. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Residents along the path of Hurricane Matthew were ordered to evacuate the east coast of Florida in October 2016, resulting in back-ups along westbound Interstate 4 in the Champions Gate area. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published June 7

Thousands of Tampa Bay residents spent hours crawling out of town on crowded evacuation routes two years ago when Hurricane Irma was getting closer to shore. Bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstates, combined with fears of running out of gas, caused many residents to stay put.

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

This certainly isn’t a situation we want to see in the future. So as extreme weather events and sea level rise become the accepted norm, leaders and planners around the Tampa Bay region are working together to improve evacuation routes and key infrastructure.

As this planning work moves forward, though, here are tips to keep in mind:

• Know the evacuation zone in which you live. This information is typically available on your county or city website.

• If ordered to evacuate, do so sooner than later. Roads will be less congested for your drive.

Sean Sullivan is the executive director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. [Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council]
Sean Sullivan is the executive director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. [Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council]

• If you are in a non-evacuation zone, think about sheltering in place, as getting on the road adds congestion for citizens who must evacuate.

• Think about driving tens of miles, not hundreds. Getting to a less threatened area within the state instead of trying to leave Florida means less time on the road, in turn making the highways less congested for everyone.

• Know your evacuation routes by taking note of the blue “evacuation route” signs on area roads, looking up maps on your county’s website ahead of time, and reviewing information in this hurricane guide.

After a storm passes, the roads may not be clear and the damage to crucial infrastructure can complicate travel. Extreme weather causes damage to roads and highways, cutting off access to critical facilities and disrupting the flow of goods that help people recover after a hurricane.

To make evacuations easier in major storms, a first step would be a statewide study of evacuation routes and tactics, which has recently been tackled by the Florida Legislature.

Regional planning councils around the state could collaborate to collect and study data that will be used to enhance statewide evacuation if necessary. Such a study determining best practices for the state could lead to:

• Expanding north-south limited access roadways farther north.

• Standard guidelines for when a request is made to forgo toll fees.

• The addition of more feeder roads to evacuation routes so evacuees have more options.

Also, the Federal Highway Administration recently funded, via a nationwide pilot program, a study assessing the area’s transportation systems’ vulnerability to sea level rise, storm surge and flooding. These assessments will help us understand both risk factors and potential mitigation measures, so routine road repairs can take potential future risks into account.

This Resilient Tampa Bay program, which involves transportation representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, is one of 11 pilot programs around the country. Its findings could lead to adaptation of strategies that make transportation networks more resilient in major storms, such as:

• Building detention basins or crushed stone drainage systems next to major highways.

• Raising curbs around the shoulders of roads to protect them from water erosion.

• Installing better drainage ditches in the medians between travel lanes.

• Enhancing landscaping so it can utilize drain water to thrive.

In another step toward sharing research and planning, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council last year formed the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, which involves six counties and 20 cities collaborating on new initiatives related to mitigating the impacts of flooding, storm surge and sea level rise.

Regional and statewide collaboration like this is key in short-term and long-term planning to make us and our properties safer before, during and after a hurricane. Residents need to be aware of the threats and they need to get involved as local municipalities strive to help make us less vulnerable in the years ahead. The time to prepare for hurricane season is now.

Sean Sullivan is the executive director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which works with 27 west-central Florida municipalities to make long-range plans to reduce the impact storms have on our region.


2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter


What Michael taught the Panhandle and Tampa Bay

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael.

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind

Advertisement