Citrus County working to make hurricane evacuations faster on Highway 19

Posted at 4:51 PM, May 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-24 18:10:03-04

CITRUS COUNTY, Fla. — Millions of people tried to evacuate the state during hurricane Irma, and traffic was so clogged that some decided to turn around and go home. But Citrus County is working to make Highway 19 evacuations go smoother.

Last September many people trying to evacuate the state using US Highway 19 were stopped by lots of red lights.  

"I felt bad for those people who were leaving, I said I’m staying home. Get out there and fight with that traffic, no way," said Carla Ballard, who lives in Crystal River.

"You might’ve gone two inches every 15 minutes," said Citrus County resident Teresa Kumbera. 

Kumbera says she and the 94-year-old disabled veteran she cares for sat in traffic on US 19 for hours when they tried to evacuate, and they didn’t make it far.

"I would say five miles, and then we had to turn around and come home because there was no way we were going to get away from the hurricane," said Kumbera. 

That’s why the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office is working with FDOT to install cameras on lights along US 19 this summer. The cameras will allow FDOT to monitor traffic in real-time, so in the event of an emergency, the signals can be changed remotely. 

"It would help traffic to flow in and out nice and smoothly." said Citrus County resident Kenneth Pisano.

"If everybody’s going one way then keep those lights green and get those people out of here," said Ballard.

The Citrus County Sheriff's Office says not only will US 19 receive a complete overhaul, but also the 16 intersection will be retrofitted with cellular modems, so the lights can be changed remotely in the event of an emergency, like a hurricane evacuation. 

FDOT says they will start installing the devices in June.