State troopers out in force on Tampa Bay area interstates, urging drivers to be patient

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Tampa Bay area interstates and highways are packed with Hurricane Irma evacuees, and all available state troopers are hard at work. They’re making sure traffic runs smoothly.

With gas shortages and stressed out evacuees, they’re concerned about road rage incidents.

State Trooper Kenn Watson is in for a long and busy weekend. All vacations have been cancelled and every trooper is at work.

“We want to make sure that everyone is traveling safely and everyone has that good, cool head on their shoulders,” said Watson.

They’re worried about angry motorists. If you combine the hordes of Irma evacuees, empty store shelves and gas shortages, people are stressed out and struggling to leave the state. Troopers are seeing numerous cases of disabled cars.

“We have had a few motorists that have run out of fuel,” explained Watson.

Trooper Watson suggests that travelers bring plenty of food, water and fuel. He also recommends that people pack their patience.

“We also want to be there to make sure everybody stays calm and no one loses their patience and they start driving aggressively, this is what we want to avoid,” Watson explained.

Troopers are making sure the shoulders are clear. If a car is disabled, Watson suggests parking on the far right shoulder and provide room for emergency vehicles.

He also urges drivers to be mindful of how much gas they have left.

“When you get to the halfway point, in other words, your tank is at half, start looking for fuel, because everyone else is also looking for fuel. We’re all vying for the same spots, so we have to plan ahead, be careful,” said Watson.

“If you do not plan ahead, there is more opportunity for you to lose your patience or to panic and this is something we want everyone to avoid,” he added.

Troopers also urge drivers of large vehicles, such as RVs and tractor-trailers, to avoid driving in the strong winds and rains that are expected to hit the state in the coming days.

“Those are the ones that we want to make sure they’re getting out of here as quickly and safely as possible. You certainly do not want to be operating a motor vehicle of that size when you’re having gusts of wind that is 55, 65 miles per hour,” said Watson. “Unfortunately, when that happens, we’re gonna end up having overturned vehicles on the interstate and that’s something we certainly want to avoid.”

Will Laird and his wife are fleeing south Florida.

“This morning we said, ‘let’s skedaddle,’” he said.

He made sure to bring plenty of food and an extra fuel can.

“I’ve been through four hurricanes before and my wife’s never been through one, so we decided, why don’t we take a vacation,” Laird explained.

He is heading toward Destin in the panhandle.

“A storm is a storm, you can replace your home, but you can’t replace someone’s life.”

Some travelers are avoiding I-75 at all costs.

“It’s wall to wall right now,” one woman said.

Some drivers are taking highways and back roads.

“[US 301 has] been great…very good flow of traffic and everything has gone very smoothly,” the driver said.

Troopers urge you to plan your route in advance, bring extra food, fuel and please be patient.

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