TXDOT Makes Changes to Freeway Contraflow Procedure

The Texas Department of Transportation is making important changes on Houston area freeways it hopes will make evacuations easier and safer the next time a hurricane heads this way. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Delays in opening freeways to contraflow traffic got much of the blame for the massive gridlock and dozens of deaths in the Hurricane Rita evacuation last year. TXDOT engineers say if an evacuation is ordered this year, freeways will convert to contraflow much quicker. Flashing contraflow signs are going up at crossover points on Interstates 10 and 45, and US highways 59 and 290, but traffic operations director Carlos Lopez says making contraflow happen also calls for a lot of manpower.

"You have to have people at the ramps themselves. In many cases, you have to have officers at the cross streets, so that traffic won't be turning in the direction that traffic may be coming in the opposite direction. And you have to have this at virtually every interchange that you have along the freeway."

Lopez says removing concrete barriers between opposing lanes was also a problem last year. So, they're replacing the concrete barriers with water-filled barriers that can be drained and removed quickly. Lopez says even with these new features, it's never going to be easy to evacuate a city the size of Houston.

"If we have the same kind of exodus that we had last year, even though we have contraflow in place, there's still only so many lanes to carry traffic. And there probably won't be enough to carry that kind of exodus super fast, like your normal traveling day, but we definitely think it will flow better than it did last year."

The new freeway features and improvements in communications are based on recommendations from the blue ribbon task force the Governor appointed to investigate the problems in the Rita evacuation. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.