Va. Evacuation Plan Adds 300 Hurricane Gates to Highways

July 24, 2007

Nearly 300 new hurricane gates are being installed between Richmond and Norfolk to make it easier to evacuate people fleeing the Hampton Roads area in case of a major storm.

The $5.8 million project will add the gates to entrance and exit ramps off Interstates 64 and 664 and Route 199. Another 142 gates were installed last year along eastbound I-64 from the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel to the Interstate 295 exchange near Richmond at a cost of about $3 million.

Crews recently began installing the new gates east of I-295 in Richmond and will work their way toward Hampton Roads, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman said.

In the event of a major hurricane or other disaster, the governor can order an interstate lane reversal to help quickly evacuate the congested Hampton Roads area, a region with limited inland routes and approximately 1.5 million people.

Two exits — 234 at Williamsburg and 205 in Bottoms Bridge — would remain open for gas, food, lodging and other needs.

In case of an evacuation, officials first would focus on getting out the coastal residents in the areas most prone to flooding, such as Virginia Beach and Norfolk, and then allow residents farther inland to escape westward.

State police and National Guard troops would help VDOT lower the gates and make sure things run smoothly.

VDOT briefly closed the gates, but didn’t reverse traffic, in May to make sure they would work before hurricane season began on June 1.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said there is a 75 percent chance of a major Atlantic hurricane hitting the United States this year. A revised estimate will not be available until Aug. 9.

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