Florida’s roads empty as Irma batters peninsula

Many primary roadways in southern and central Florida were desolate — or nearly so — on Sunday morning as Hurricane Irma neared landfall in the Florida Keys and her outer bands crept up the peninsula.

Real-time traffic maps from the state showed the gridlock that paralyzed motorists on Thursday, Friday and Saturday had dissipated, indicating that most all residents who wanted to flee had. Traffic counts on main thoroughfares, like I-95 or the Turnpike, showed barely anyone on the road by mid-morning.

The exception was an uptick on I-75 out of Tampa Bay, where more than 500 vehicles passed near Zephyrhills in Pasco County in the 8 o’clock hour. (That’s about half the normal flow, though.)

I-75 north through Ocala and up to the Georgia line showed similar, or less, traffic volumes — about comparable to historical norms.

Gov. Rick Scott, during a series of national morning show interviews, repeated his fears of coastal storm surge and urged Americans to “pray for us” in Florida.

“People are off the roads, and I just hope everybody is evacuated safely,” he said.

Traffic in the Keys and South Florida — once Irma’s primary target — has been minimal, if not next to nothing, for a few days.

Saturday afternoon, as Irma’s new path toward southwest Florida came into focus, traffic volumes spiked in places like Naples, Punta Gorda and Sarasota — but barely any traffic was reported Sunday morning.

Traffic levels in Jacksonville and west on Interstate 10 were about normal, or slightly below, for a Sunday morning, but the storm hadn’t reached there yet.

However, near Tallahassee, more people were getting on the roads.

Residents there woke up Sunday morning to fresh forecasts that had Irma plowing through the capital city as a Category 1 on Monday afternoon.

State transportation officials said they had stopped letting drivers on Interstate 4 west out of Tampa use the left shoulder as a travel lane. They had allowed that Saturday afternoon to help expedite traffic evacuating out of the area after heavy congestion jammed the roadway.