Traffic should flow more smoothly during next hurricane evacuation


April 29, 2010 at 6 p.m.
Updated April 28, 2010 at 11:29 p.m.

Deciding whether to flee an approaching hurricane and risk major traffic jams or staying home and risk dying could be easier for Crossroads residents.

State transportation and law enforcement officials said Thursday there have been major improvements in the way traffic will be handled when people evacuate in the face of a hurricane.

They said during the MidCoast Hurricane Conference those improvements include everything from improving major highways to providing better help for stranded motorists.

They're hopeful that will eliminate traffic jams that have had people tied up on the road 12 hours or more in past evacuations. That concern has discouraged some from evacuating when a major storm threatens.

"It's going to be rough to get people to evacuate and believe things will be better," said Randy Bena with the Texas Department of Transportation. "But the Texas Department of Transportation has done a lot of planning and a lot of construction to make things better."

Lt. Glen Garrett with the Texas Department of Public Safety told the crowd of about 350 people that officials believe they know where the bottlenecks are now and how traffic from other areas affect the flow in the Crossroads.

"We can evacuate in a timely manner on this part of the coast," he said. But he also noted that traffic patterns could change because people remember what happened during the last threat and may take different routes, causing new problems.

John Metz with the National Weather Service said that agency has not released its forecast for the 2010 hurricane season. But he said at least three of the four major indicators that forecasters look at indicate the potential for a busy season.

Metz said the last major hurricane to strike the Middle Texas Coast was Carla in 1961 49 years ago. A major hurricane strikes somewhere on the Texas Coast an average of every eight or nine years.

"There are no patterns to when a major hurricane is going to strike," he said. "But it has been a long time."

The average forecast error for landfall has been cut in half since 1990, he said. The National Hurricane Center hopes to cut the current error in half again within the next five years.

But Metz said the weather service has had no success in improving its forecasts accuracy of hurricane intensity.

"I don't want people to underestimate these storms and not heed the messages from local officials," he said.



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