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Getting Back to Florida Post Irma

The second and final article, the first being Fleeing Irma.

First, some good news: We heard early Monday morning that there was no hurricane damage in the neighborhood.  Just a lot of tree limbs.

We spent Monday and Tuesday away from home, searching online and getting reports from people getting back into Florida.  All reports were the same: it was a mess.  Traffic backups on every major road coming into the state.  No gas.  Florida Governor Rick Scott was even advising people to not come back.  A logistics nightmare.

Things were starting to look better, good enough to start our way back early Wednesday morning.

Leaving Kentucky

We left Lexington at 7:30 in the morning, southbound on Interstate 75.

The ride was a little soggy and cool, but uneventful through Kentucky and Tennessee.

North Georgia was even very much like normal.  Plenty of gas, traffic flowing well.

Nearing Atlanta

It was in Cartersville, 40 miles from downtown Atlanta, where traffic began the process of stop-and-go.

As we went through Marietta and neared the northern interchange with the Atlanta bypass–Interstate 285, the stoppages began to get more and more frequent.

Downtown Atlanta was snarled up, including the HOV lane.  The HOV lane where it makes its northern interchange with Interstate 85 wreaked havoc with the GPS.  The GPS took an hour off our ETA and had us arriving at a nearby location a few blocks off the interstate.


Downtown connector, conjoined section of interstates 75 & 85, in downtown Atlanta.  Atlantacitizen at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

South out of Atlanta

The stop-and-go continued all the way until the Macon bypass–Interstate 475.  At two points, the GPS had us get off the interstate and take parallel backroads.  It worked pretty well for the most part, although a lot of people have GPS and were given the same advice.

We stopped north of Macon for gas, near one of the detour points.  Still no problem finding gas.

Macon Bypass

For the first time since Cartersville, we were really moving along nicely.  We even got to see a large jet begin final approach into Robins Air Force Base in nearby Warner Robins.  The overhead gantries even told all Florida-bound travelers not to take Interstate 75 through Macon, but instead stick to Interstate 475.

At the end of the Macon Bypass, we hit a bottleneck where it comes into Interstate 75.  Five lanes turning into three within 3.5 miles doesn’t seem to bad, but on this day, and with two exits in between, it was about a 10-minute delay.

After Macon

After the end of the bottleneck, and with cars all merged in, traffic moved very well the last 150 miles into Florida.

The goal for gas was to leave Valdosta, 15 miles from the Florida-Georgia line, with a full tank.  Sure enough, we found a gas station about four blocks from the interstate with gas available and open pumps.  We seized the opportunity and topped off the gas tank.

Mission accomplished.  Roughly 230 miles to go–plenty of gas to cover that.

We eased into Florida and stopped at the Florida Welcome Center.  It was very busy, as you’d imagine with people still needing to get back home.

The Santa Fe River

We were doing OK, but I was reading some stuff about a flood of the Santa Fe River possibly affecting traffic on Interstate 75.  Traffic backed up for the first time in a long time at that point.  Hoping a last-minute closure wouldn’t happen, we neared the river slowly.  A bright light was in the median at the foot of the bridge.

We made it across!

The bright light in the median was a crew monitoring river levels.  Turns out the river level was less than a foot away from forcing the closure of the Interstate 75 bridge.  Two bridges just downstream were already closed.  This would have made a detour very difficult and time-consuming.

Continuing Through North Florida

Traffic did pick up after crossing the swollen Santa Fe.

We noticed no real storm damage going through the exits of Gainesville.  Power seemed to not be out of the ordinary.

The first real power outage we noticed was at the Micanopy exit 10 miles south of Gainesville.  The usual gas stations, motels, and restaurant were dark.  Pitch black.  Like an exit in the middle of the California desert with no services for many miles.  A sobering reminder, considering this area is normally well-lit.

A couple more exits between Gainesville and Ocala were also dark.  We were also beginning to notice trees down in the median, landing just feet from the interstate.  We considered ourselves fortunate that the interstates were cleared of debris in time for our arrival.

South of Ocala

Traffic was bad for the last 10 miles leading up to the Interstate 75 split with the Florida Turnpike, one of the state’s most infamous bottlenecks.  All in all, another 20 minutes off our travel time.  The road being in a construction configuration didn’t help matters.

Once through the split, traffic was pretty good all the way into Tampa.

We arrived home a little after midnight.  A quick walk through the house revealed no damage from the storm.  No broken windows, no water damage.  A walk through the neighborhood the next day revealed piles of tree limbs all over.  There was one uprooted oak tree down the street, which fortunately landed downwind in a grass field.

All in all, an exhausting day in the car, and not the best idea of a road trip.  But, spared any damage or injury.  I’ll take it.

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