Evacuation study points to intersections and communications

evactuation route sign against stormy looking backrgoundAugust 2022 – Hurricane evacuation and sheltering is a matter of life and safety, and transportation plays a crucial role. Thanks to the Hillsborough TPO’s Storm Evacuation Forecast & Shelter-In-Place Scenarios Study, we can proactively work toward improving evacuations as part of long-range planning and congestion management.

Approved by the TPO’s Policy Committee on August 10, the study involved high-level analyses of strategies to enhance how Hillsborough County residents would evacuate and shelter-in-place during a severe weather event. It also emphasized options other than road widening to address evacuation needs.

The study used cell phone data to understand travel behavior during hurricane seasons which included Hurricane Mathew, Irma, and Michael. Some notable findings were:

  • People living closer to coastal areas evacuated at higher rates
  • 15-25% of those in evacuation zones said they would not evacuate even for a category 5 storm
  • Over 10% of people outside of evacuation zones would leave even for a category 1 storm

The study also found that in the event of a category 3 hurricane with winds up to 129 mph, nearly a third of the 1.5 million people living in Hillsborough County would need to evacuate.

In Hillsborough County, the top 10 routes used during hurricane season evacuations were along I-75, I-4, Bruce B Downs Blvd, and Dale Mabry Hwy. The study found that two areas should receive attention because of their close proximity to shelters, high percentages of households with disabilities, or designation as Environmental Justice areas by the TPO. These areas were Bruce B Downs Blvd at Fletcher Ave and Mango Rd at Hillsborough Ave.

One surprising finding was that adding local capacity at intersections and interchanges or adding capacity to the interstate through emergency shoulder use did not reduce evacuation clearance times. However, quicker evacuation compliance due to enhanced communication did.

Ultimately, the study recommended multiple strategies to reduce or maintain clearance times such as traffic signal coordination and permanent, dynamic message signs to assist with emergency notifications and operations. To read the study, including additional recommendations, visit planhillsborough.org/storm-evacuation-forecast-shelter-in-place-scenarios-study/.

Did you know?

The Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 20 each year. That means, we’re still in it! View information for use before, during and after a storm, checklists, and guides at hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/stay-safe/storm

View the rest of this month's Connections to Tomorrow articles