FYI: VDOT's role in hurricane response

What are VDOT's responsibilities during a hurricane?

VDOT's key role is to open roads that have been closed as a result of the storm as quickly and safely as possible. Other responsibilities include:

  • Setting up traffic control and detours; assisting with traffic control for evacuations
  • Removing debris and downed trees from roadways and coordinating clean-up with other organizations - such as utility companies
  • Making emergency repairs to damaged roads, bridges and tunnels
  • Assessing damage and providing emergency engineering services
  • Coordinating long-term recovery to restore transportation infrastructure
  • Providing emergency plans and procedures
  • Providing back-up communications to support emergency response and recovery operations
  • Communicating road condition information to the public through the Transportation Operations Center and Public Affairs

What is VDOT's role during an evacuation?

Evacuations can be ordered by the Governor and individual localities. Local jurisdictions manage the evacuation process. VDOT assists with traffic control and incident response.

Will bridges and overpasses in the Hampton Roads region close due to high winds?

Generally during a hurricane, VDOT does not close bridges, ramps or roads unless there is eminent danger to public safety such as high water, strong sustained winds, pavement or structural damage, or downed trees and other debris that block roads.

VDOT works closely with law enforcement on road closures, road safety and traffic control.

Could major bridges, tunnels, or ferry system close during the hurricane?

There are two thresholds that would trigger a major bridge or tunnel closure in the Hampton Roads region when a tropical storm or hurricane is eminent:

  • For the Route 58 Midtown Tunnel and the Route 32 Jamestown-Scotland Ferry, a closure decision is based on the onset of tropical force winds (39 miles-per-hour) when hurricane or tropical storm conditions are expected to worsen. The Jamestown Scotland Ferry will also cease operations when the Port of Hampton Roads is closed to maritime operations.
  • For the I-664 Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel, the I-64 Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, the Route 17 James River Bridge, the Route 17 Coleman Bridge and the I-64 High Rise Bridge, closure decisions are based on the onset of 45 mile-per-hour winds when tropical storm or hurricane conditions are predicted to worsen.

Closure timing is based on wind speed, storm surge, rain bands and actual facility conditions. Each facility manager will monitor the conditions at the facility and make the final decision about closing. 

Motorists should be off of the road when facility closings are determined.  Any formal evacuation of the region should be completed before storm force winds cause unsafe travel conditions. Closures will be instituted when the operation can be completed safely and crews can take appropriate shelter.

What kind of damage do you expect?

Downed trees, road washouts from flooding and possible bridge damage could occur.   VDOT will clear trees from emergency routes and interstates first, then clear debris from secondary roads and subdivision streets on state maintained roadways. Crews will assist with traffic control, post signs and block off areas where high water presents a safety concern.

What should motorists watch out for?

Never drive over a flooded roadway. Its depth is not obvious and the roadbed may have washed out beneath the water. Rapidly rising water could engulf your car and you could be swept away. It only takes two feet of water to carry away most automobiles. Nearly half of all flash flood fatalities occur in automobiles.

Best advice:  Make a plan and evacuate early, before storm conditions develop. Stay off the roads during extreme weather conditions.

How will problem areas be handled?

Crews in VDOT's area headquarters are on the front-line of storm response. Headquarter supervisors know their territory well and will direct their crews to where they are needed the most for the safety of the traveling public.

Public information sources: