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The Great Escape: Will Contra Lanes help the First Coast evacuate?

11:38 PM, Apr 29, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- As we approach hurricane season, if the order came down to evacuate, would you be able to get out of town in time?

The last large evacuation Jacksonville faced was in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd. Simply put, it was a mess.

"For hours and hours, everybody was just backed up," said Laura Mobley remembering the back up.

RELATED: Duval County helping residents prepare for an evacuation and stay informed

With no clear path from Hurricane Floyd, people from Miami to Jacksonville took to the roads to evacuate. But then they found themselves in a massive traffic jam.

"They sat in traffic for a couple of hours and they finally got off the exit and just turned around," Mobley said.

After Floyd's botched evacuations, the Governor's Hurricane Evacuation Task Force identified highways that could become one-way routes to evacuate. Interstate 10 westbound is one of those routes.

Contra lanes, which would move traffic all in one direction, were then put in near the Lane Avenue exit.

RELATED: In Nassau, one of three evacuation routes to close

In just over the last year, the contra lanes on I-10 West were moved to just past the Chaffee Road exit, roughly 8 miles down I-10 West.

According to the Contraflow Plan for the Florida Intrastate Highway System, the traffic during Floyd moved at no more than 5 miles per hour on I-10 West during the evacuation.

At that rate, it would take an extra 96 minutes to reach the new locations of the crossover lanes.

RELATED: CodeRED helps communicate evacuation orders to Clay residents

So FCN asked the Florida Department of Transportation in Duval County why the lanes were moved.

"For several reasons, the fact that it was in a three lane section, more accessible for people to evacuate from I-295 and also people coming up from Chaffee Road. That is a fast growing section of the city and people coming up from Clay County," said Michael Goldman, public information officer with the Florida Department of Transportation.

Goldman said FDOT believes the new location will help the evacuation move faster.

RELATED
: Hurricane resources for St. Johns County residents

According to the Analysis of Florida's One-Way Operations for Hurricane Evacuation prepared for the FDOT, in a worst case scenario, around 50,000 cars will try to use I-10 West during an evacuation. More than half of those cars will be from Duval County.

But here's the biggest issue: Because Florida has never issued an order to use the contra lanes, it isn't known how much it will improve the time it takes to get to I-75 in Columbia County.

Readiness is key though because as one contra flow report states "It's not if a contra flow operation would be declared under such circumstances, but when."

To find out your evacuation route and zone, click on your county/area of residence:

-Duval County

-St. Johns County

-Nassau County

-Clay County

-Georgia

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