DOT learns important lessons from Hurricane Frances - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

DOT learns important lessons from Hurricane Frances

September 9, 2004

Tifton-- Georgia Transportation officials are giving themselves high marks for being able to quickly head off traffic problems in South Georgia during Hurricane Frances. Officials say they learned valuable lessons from Frances that they'll use if Hurricane Ivan causes another major evacuation.

If Interstate 75 is a major artery for the heart of transportation in Georgia, Hurricane Frances could have likely been the cause of a cardiac arrest.

During the height of the Frances evacuation, Interstate 75 between the Florida line and Valdosta was a traffic nightmare. Cars backed up for more than 20 miles and moving as slow as 4 miles an hour.

"I thought we were out of it when we got out of Orlando. I thought when we got into Georgia it would be a lot easier, but it wasn't" says Florida Evacuee Tom Shawcross.

Georgia Commissioner of Transportation Harold Linnenkohl says the first traffic rush from Frances created a gridlock that had to be solved from the source.

"Florida was the one that reacted and made it possible for I-75 in Georgia to clear out by diverting part of traffic at I-10," says Linnenkohl.

Communication with Florida's DOT was key in clearing up early problems. Road signs down I-75 starting in Florida, sent the message to evacuees that there was more than one way to cut through Georgia.

Overall, the commissioner gave his department a grade of B, for their ability to clear congestion on I-75. He says if Ivan causes the same type of evacuation problems they will use the same routes like alternate routes and road signs to make sure they don't run into the same problems.

"We meet with South Carolina, Florida and Alabama. We pull together to see what works and what does not work. Pulling together as a region and not just as one state," says Linnenkohl.

It's coordination he hopes will serve them well if Hurricane Ivan takes aim at Florida.

Linnenkohl says there are plans to expand I-75 to six lanes from Crisp County to Valdosta to keep traffic flowing smoothly during emergencies.

posted at 6:22PM by scott.hunter@walb.com