US 290 in Austin could see an influx of drivers fleeing Hurricane Harvey

The reversal will be considered only when the Houston area is threatened by a major hurricane and mandatory evacuations are issued. A decision to reverse US 290 will be made by local authorities working with the State Operations Center based on the strength of the storm. (TxDOT)
The reversal will be considered only when the Houston area is threatened by a major hurricane and mandatory evacuations are issued. A decision to reverse US 290 will be made by local authorities working with the State Operations Center based on the strength of the storm. (TxDOT)

AUSTIN (KXAN)– As Hurricane Harvey makes landfall, drivers evacuating the coast could be headed to the Austin area. Currently, there are mandatory evacuations for counties near the Corpus Christi area.

To help move citizens safely and efficiently out of harm’s way during large-scale evacuations, contraflow could be put into place on several highways out of Houston, leading evacuees to Austin, Dallas or San Antonio. Evacuation plans may or may not include activating contraflow lanes.

If this plan is activated, US 290 eastbound lanes will be reversed to carry two lanes of westbound traffic. Traffic in the contraflow lanes will be able to exit US 290 at selected locations. The reversal will be considered only when the Houston area is threatened by a major hurricane and mandatory evacuations are issued. A decision to reverse US 290 will be made by local authorities working with the State Operations Center based on the strength of the storm and projected landfall.

The contraflow operations will begin west of FM 1960 in Houston, once drivers arrive in Brenham they’ll be able to continue to Austin, Bryan, College Station or Waco.  If this plan is activated, the outside shoulder or evaculane, of US 290 will be opened to traffic.  The shoulder may be used with or without the separate Contraflow plan. The hurricane Evaculane would begin east of Mason Rd. and will end at State Highway 6 in Hempstead, TX, but could even continue into Austin.

If contraflow or an evaculane route are put into place, drivers will be alerted through social media and by digital signs along the highway. Hurricane evacuees need to consider the travel path of the hurricane and their destination in choosing evacuation routes. The last time Highway 290 was reversed was in 2005 during Hurricane Rita.

On Friday afternoon, Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul was briefed at the State Operations Center. The area he serves is in the 290/I-10 evacuation route. He’ll be coordinating resources between the state and federal government, especially when workers change the two major routes in his district to flow away from the Gulf of Mexico.  He says he’s helped FEMA pre-position people and resources to respond once a local government requests assistance.

He says he’s helped FEMA pre-position people and resources to respond once a local government requests assistance.

“They have a large presence now in the state of Texas. They want to make sure that this goes as smoothly as possible,” said Rep. McCaul.

Federal workers will join 700 national guardsmen the state has already activated. But McCaul’s main focus will be assisting the evacuation process. Border Security checkpoints will remain open, but McCaul tells KXAN that border agents should consider saving lives over checking someone’s immigration status.

“The humanitarian aspect is first and foremost. Even if someone is here illegally, they are not going to put them in harm’s way, in the eye of the hurricane so to speak,” said Rep. McCaul.

McCaul will join state leaders in the operations center throughout the weekend.

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