1 Fort Lauderdale
News & Reviews
Don’t be surprised to find yourself sitting in traffic jams or slow-moving traffic on Friday, if you’re one of the thousands heading north and fleeing Hurricane Irma’s wrath.
With the category 4 storm now projected to slam South Florida and make her way straight up the peninsula through Central Florida this weekend, time is running out for residents to evacuate.
The state’s main thoroughfares northward — Interstates 95 and 75 and the Florida Turnpike — were already starting to fill up in some areas by early Friday and, if Thursday was any indication, the congestion will only amplify as the day wears on.
As of 7 a.m., traffic flows out of South Florida were all in the green, according to fl511.com, the state’s public source of information on roadway conditions.
But starting in Fort Pierce and northward on the Florida Turnpike, evacuating motorists can expect to see heavy congestion.
Traffic appeared to improve through the Orlando metro, but then the clogs resume, especially where the Turnpike ends and merges with I-75 in Wildwood.
On up through Gainesville and beyond, traffic was reported slow during the 6 a.m. hour. A crash on I-75 at MM 402 was causing a backlog near Alachua, the state reported.
Even near the Georgia border, south of Jasper in rural Hamilton County, traffic was delayed. And Georgia transportation officials were reporting slow patches northward to Atlanta — just past the Florida line, in Tifton and near Macon.
Over on I-95 along the Atlantic Coast, there were pockets of trouble, but much of the interstate appeared to be moving normally. Congestion was reported near Daytona Beach and Palm Coast.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday urged residents evacuating on crowded roadways to “please be patient” and to keep in mind that they need not necessarily travel far to be safe from Irma’s wrath.
“You do not need to evacuate out of the state or hundreds of miles away to stay safe. Find shelters in your county,” Scott advised.
The Turnpike is an especially attractive option for evacuees this week, because there are no tolls since those were lifted Tuesday evening because of the impending storm.
Traffic on the Turnpike and I-75 grew more congested throughout Thursday as more people took to the roads — a pattern drivers can expect again Friday.
One driver reported having to drive 23 hours to get from Fort Lauderdale to Huntsville, Ala., which Google says should be only a 12- to 15-hour trip.
Another motorist said he found reprieve from traffic by traveling in the dead of night Friday morning.
Scott said Thursday that Florida Highway Patrol troopers would have an increased presence on major roadways to help usher traffic along. They were also ordered to escort fuel tankers south to hurry supplies toward gas stations that have run out.
Motorists looking for places they can gas up while evacuating can check GasBuddy, which offers a tracker on which gas stations have fuel. Residents who are concerned about not being able to evacuate because of “fuel issues” can call the state transportation hotline at 1-800-955-5504.
If your vehicle dies on the road and has to be pulled off to the shoulder, do not leave it. Thursday morning, Florida Highway Patrol began towing cars left disabled or abandoned. Call *FHP if you need help.
The crowded roadways and the magnitude of the evacuations — which are expected to grow as Irma draws closer — have many wondering when the state might choose to make major arteries, like the Turnpike, into one-way roads to expedite northbound traffic.
Earlier Thursday, Scott would not comment on under what circumstances evacuation routes that might happen. However, he said, before that point, state transportation officials would first open shoulders to traffic. That order hasn’t been given yet.
Scott said the state is working with Google to provide real-time updates of road closures once those are needed before, during and after the storm.
Check back for updates.
Clark reported from the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau.