Florida prepares for potentially first hurricane in a decade

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Friday, August 28, 2015

Tropical Storm Erika is threatening Florida with its first hurricane since 2005, when Hurricane Wilma hit nearly two months after Hurricane Katrina. Nearly a decade later, the Florida Department of Transportation, other government agencies and people in affected areas are dusting off the cobwebs on the emergency evacuation process.

On the morning of Friday, Aug. 28, Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency for all counties in the state of Florida. The order activates Bryan Koon, Director of the Division of Emergency Management, as the State Coordinating Officer and sets in motion the processes for possible evacuations if needed.

As part of the executive order, FDOT is authorized to waive the collection of tolls and other fees for the use of the turnpike and other public highways. Lane reversals can also be executed, directing traffic on either side of the highway to one direction. Portions of highways may also be closed.

Gov. Scott’s executive order specifically addresses commercial motor vehicles that enter the area to deliver emergency supplies and other types of relief. Enforcement of Florida statutes 316.545(4) and 320.0715 can be suspended for those vehicles. More specifically, proper registration, IFTA and the International Registration Plan will be waived during the emergency period. Hours-of-service rules will also be waived for trucks bringing in supplies and relief. Furthermore, weight and size restrictions may be altered, assuming they do not exceed limits posted for bridges and similar structures, and special permits will be issued by FDOT.

Truckers in the path of the hurricane are also exempt from hours-of-service rules. Any operator of a commercial motor vehicle may drive through the required rest period if he or she is evacuating due to personal safety. HOS regulations are reactivated once a driver is reasonably safe.

According to both Weather Underground and National Hurricane Center forecast maps, Tropical Storm Erika is expected to reach landfall in Florida sometime between 8 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 30, and 8 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 31. As of press time, winds are at 50 mph. Hurricane status does not begin until winds have reached at least 74 mph. Weather experts have been at odds over whether or not the storm will strengthen. Several variables needed for the storm to strengthen or weaken make it difficult to predict the storm’s behavior more than a day in advance.

Drivers in Florida can check on current road conditions by calling 511 or downloading the Florida 511 app. Traffic data within the Florida 511 app is provided by FDOT. The app is available for Android and Apple phones. Information can also be found at fl511.com.

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