Legislation Filed to Improve Resilience and Capacity of Evacuation Routes

Addresses challenges that impeded critical mass evacuations...
Congressmen, Senators advocate for better evacuation planning in case of a hurricane (NOAA image)

Boston (May 31, 2018) – With the 2018 hurricane season set to begin tomorrow, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Representatives Bill Keating (MA-09), and John Garamendi (CA-03) announced the introduction of the Enhancing the Strength and Capacity of America’s Primary Evacuation Routes (ESCAPE) Act, legislation that dedicates $1 billion of federal resources to expand the capacity and improve the resilience of the nation’s evacuation routes. Major challenges have impeded critical mass evacuations, including those in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Further, damage to critical transportation arteries have inhibited first responders and disaster aid from reaching areas of need in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, such as Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last year. The ESCAPE Act will provide targeted federal assistance to communities seeking to protect their citizens and fortify their critical mass evacuation routes from the adverse impacts of climate change. 

 

“Our roads, ports, airports, waterways, and railways serve not only as critical arteries of commerce and transportation, but also play an instrumental role in facilitating mass evacuations and expediting recovery and emergency response,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “In a time of emergency, Massachusetts residents shouldn’t have to think twice about the best way to get their families to safety. The ESCAPE Act will help ensure that the nation’s evacuation routes have the capacity and resilience they need to fully serve their critical role.”

 

“‎Communities need good, well-designed evacuation routes so families can stay safe if disaster hits,” said Senator Warren. “This bill sends needed federal resources to help Massachusetts cities and towns prepare for emergencies and strengthen existing infrastructure.”

 

“The bridges over the Cape Cod Canal are the lifeline for all of the residents of the Cape and Islands. It is important that we recognize that the Canal Bridges, and other critical evacuation infrastructure across the nation, play a fundamental role in providing for the public safety of countless Americans,” said Congressman Keating. “Undoubtedly, ensuring we provide the funding necessary for the safest, most resilient evacuation routes should be paramount. With both manmade and natural disasters continuing to threaten our residents, the ESCAPE Act will provide much-needed infrastructure security so people on the Cape—and around the country—can focus on finding safety for their loved ones in emergency situations, not whether the route to that safety will be able to get them there.”

 

“Creating safe and effective evacuation routes should be a priority for every lawmaker,” said Congressman Garamendi. “Last year, nearly 200,000 of my constituents were forced to evacuate when they learned that the Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the nation, was on the verge of collapsing. Thousands of drivers funneled onto a narrow two-lane highway, spending hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic to reach safety. Luckily, no lives were lost but it highlighted the need for enhanced evacuation routes in the region. That is why I’m proud to stand with Senators Markey and Nelson, and Representative Keating in introducing this bicameral legislation that will prepare our infrastructure for mass evacuations and save lives in times of crisis.”

 

A copy of the ESCAPE Act can be found HERE.

 

The ESCAPE Act will provide robust federal funding to states, local governments, and tribes for evacuation route:

  • Planning – traffic analysis and monitoring; identification of evacuation routes; risk assessment; evacuation route education and awareness; and interagency coordination.
  • Acquisition – signage and traffic management equipment and vehicles.
  • Resilience – protecting, elevating, or relocating evacuation routes in vulnerable areas.
  • Capacity – restoring or replacing structurally deficient or functionally obsolete evacuation routes and constructing new or redundant evacuation routes if existing routes cannot perform their lifesaving functions.

 

The Federal Highway Administration found that the Boston area faces several impediments to conducting large-scale, mass evacuations. Further, Cape Cod, Massachusetts has a population of over 200,000 people, but is only accessible by two bridges spanning the federal Cape Cod Canal.  Regrettably, these two 80-year old bridges, which are crucial evacuation routes, are in a poor state and do not meet modern specifications. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the bridges and is currently conducting a study to evaluate whether the bridges need to be replaced, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. 

 

“Building resilient infrastructure to support evacuations is essential to give communities the best chance to stay safe when disasters occur,” said Raul E. Garcia, Senior Legislative Counsel, EARTHJUSTICE. “We applaud Senator Markey for showing how infrastructure should be: resilient in cases of disasters, thoroughly analyzed according to the best science available, and responsive to public needs and input. This bill makes a real investment in evacuation infrastructure but also ensures that its development goes through a thorough environmental review, making sure that the infrastructure is ready when communities have to call upon it.”

 

“Here on Cape Cod, residents and visitors have basically two roads in and two roads out,” said Wendy K. Northcross, Chief Executive Officer, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “In the event of a major weather event or other emergency, Cape Codders would be squarely left in harm’s way, with few and insufficient alternatives for escape.  We fully support national planning for evacuation routes enabling community resilience and economic sustainability.”

 

“Transportation related issues continue to be a priority facing all public and private organizations,” said Thomas S. Cahir, Administrator, Cape Cod RTA/CapeFLYER. “I am pleased that Senator Markey recognizes the importance of providing valuable resources toward addressing many of Massachusetts regional issues and/or concerns. The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority provides services over approximately 400 square miles and through 15 communities. The roadways in our region were not constructed to accommodate the volumes of traffic that now are an everyday occurrence.  In addition, we have 2 vehicular bridges traversing the Cape Cod Canal that bring every vehicle on and off the Cape. This bill, when enacted, will be beneficial to our region.”

 

“It’s imperative that we look at a long-term solution to ensure public safety,” said Marie Oliva, President & CEO, Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber. “Both bridges are functionally obsolete requiring maintenance every year.  The type of congestion that occurs annually due to these very old bridges will require a good hard look at how to resolve the problem.”

 

“The Cape Cod Commission has long recognized that the Cape Cod Canal bridges are critical infrastructure elements of the region’s transportation system,” said Kristy Senatori, Executive Director, Cape Cod Commission. “The existing vehicle bridges lack adequate capacity to handle the region’s modern transportation needs and an infrastructure program to improve the resilience of the region’s transportation system has the Commission’s full support.”

 

“The Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod believe any efforts to advance the rehabilitation and/or replacement of the bridges is critical to not only safety but to the economic sustainability of Cape Cod,” said Diane L. Pratt, Chief Executive Officer, Homebuilders & Remodelers Association of Cape Cod. “Transportation related issues continue to be a challenge to most every business and organization. We appreciate Senator Markey for working hard to drive resources towards this project.”


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