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Interstate closures a challenge for officials to deal with

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- The tanker crash that shut down Interstate 75 in Sarasota on Wednesday caused major traffic congestion on secondary roads. Could emergency officials have done a better job?

Anytime the interstate is closed like it was on Wednesday, side roads become extremely congested.  

“Just inching along, couldn’t get through the stop lights...yeah it was pretty bad,” said Kristen Sidwell. She was one of thousands of drivers caught in traffic congestion.

Logan Schlotterback was another. “Cattleman and Honore were blocked off, and then Palmer was kind of blocked off for a little bit.”

North-to-south roads had some of the worst congestion because everyone was trying to get around the interstate closure.  

“We look at every event that takes place and look for lessons learned from it,” said Sarasota Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane.

He said during the accident, a unified command was quickly established.  "Fire, Emergency Management, sheriff's office, Highway Patrol, Department of Transportation, Public Works...all the key players were part of the unified command.”

After the initial emergency was contained, McCrane said the unified command focused its attention to the traffic congestion.  He tells ABC 7 that at first traffic was diverted off the interstate to the west, and then the command, using a new computer tool, found an alternative route to the east. “It was four or five miles out of the way, but it got traffic flowing in a different direction other than pushing everything to the west.”

He says detour signs were set out and law enforcement were stationed at key turns along the detour.

He also credits the new FDOT Intelligent Transportation System message boards for helping to inform drivers about the problems.  “Signs all the way to Alligator Alley were showing that there was an incident on Interstate 75 at mile marker 210, and the road was closed at 210 and beyond.”

Khristel Koos was thankful for the new message boards, which she credits for helping her avoid traffic as she was driving southbound.  “I saw that there was some traffic back up at Fruitville, so I got off on University. Avoided it.”

If you were caught in Wednesday's congestion, you might be wondering what would happen during a hurricane evacuation. Chief McCrane says an evacuation would be a lot different, because not everyone would leave at the same time. He says the evacuation orders are staggered.

McCrane also says not everyone would be headed north. He says often the safest direction to travel is east towards the center of the state.