Motorists trying to leave Florida’s west coast ahead of Hurricane Irma can now use the left shoulder of a section of I-4 eastbound from 50th Street in Tampa to the Western Beltway (SR 429) in Orlando.
The approved stretch of road is from Mile Marker 3 to Mile Marker 60, and it’s for cars only — not trucks, buses or trailers.
The Florida Department of Transportation said it implemented the plan to assist the large number of people evacuating from the west coast. Mandatory evacuation orders were in effect for sections of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties -- a metropolitan area of more than 3 million people.
In Manatee and Sarasota counties, officials have called for a voluntary evacuation of Level B areas.
Although there are heavy pockets of evacuation traffic in some areas between Tampa and Orlando, traffic is generally flowing on that section of I-4, FDOT said.
The state said travel on the right shoulders of highways is prohibited, and no other state roadways are currently approved for left shoulder travel.
The latest update from the National Hurricane Center predicted that the storm’s center could pass near Tampa Bay, which has not been struck by a major hurricane since October 1921, when the population was about 10,000, said hurricane center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. About 4 million people now live in the low-lying area.