Lousiana, area officials prepare evacuation plan

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 24, 2005

A contraflow storm evacuation plan for Louisiana would have fourlanes of northbound Interstate 55 traffic returning to two lanesjust north of Bogue Chitto, emergency management and transportationofficials said.

Mississippi and Louisiana officials have been meeting to developthe plan and hope to have it ready by August.

“The plan is in its final stages now,” said Ken Morris, districtprograms engineer for the Mississippi Department ofTransportation.

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Morris said there are two options for the contraflow on Interstate55. Contraflow involves reversing the traffic flow on the twosouthbound lanes so that all four lanes are available fornorthbound travel.

One option involves contraflow traffic only to the Louisiana stateline. Mississippi state troopers would stop southbound traffic atthe state line, Morris said.

The other plan involves allowing contraflow into Mississippi.

“If we do it in Mississippi, it’s going to bring it up toBrookhaven,” Morris said.

Specifically, the contraflow would cease near mile marker 32 onI-55. MDOT maintenance crews are in the process of constructing acrossover lane to accommodate the traffic pattern change.

“It’s for getting that traffic back over into the normal northboundlane,” said Morris, adding that crews also will be putting up signsand stockpiling barricades for when the contraflow plan isneeded.

Clifford Galey, Brookhaven-Lincoln County Civil Defense director,said the contraflow plan could be used when a Category Three orhigher storm is forecast to hit around New Orleans. Louisiana andMississippi gubernatorial approval would be needed forimplementation, officials said.

Once the emergency plan is developed, it will be posted on thegomdot.com Web site, Morris said. A contraflow plan involvingInterstate 59 through Hattiesburg is already in place.

Morris expected I-55 would be a “main route” should the contraflowplan be needed. Officials said interchanges along the roadway wouldbe barricades and manned by state troopers and other personnel.

“This would be in cooperation with local law enforcement and DOT,”said Staff Sgt. Rod Crawford, public affairs officer for theMississippi Highway Patrol District 9.

Crawford said northbound travelers would be able to exit theinterstate at their destination. He said southbound traffic on theinterstate would be stopped at the Highway 84 intersection at exit38.

“Anyone wanting to travel south would be directed to Highway 51,”Crawford said.

Morris estimated it will take 25 MDOT vehicles and 50 employees,excluding MDOT weight enforcement personnel and state troopers, toman interchanges.

“Some of them we’re just going to have to close down,” saidMorris.

Morris cited small service road interchanges and some lanes of the”cloverleaf” interchanges as examples of ones that would be closed.He mentioned problems with cloverleaf interchanges duringcontraflow of I-59 during an earlier storm.

For Lincoln County, Galey predicted higher traffic congestionaround the Bogue Chitto area.

“Where it starts coming back into two lanes, it’s going to slowdown,” Galey said about traffic.

Galey said he is awaiting a final version of the evacuation plan.For local preparedness, he will be discussing response plans withemergency services personnel in the event they are needing on theinterstate during a contraflow situation.

Lincoln County frequently sees higher traffic flow whenever majorstorms threaten coastal areas, but Galey was unsure how thecontraflow plan would impact the area.

“So far, we’ve been able to handle the extra traffic flow inBrookhaven and Lincoln County,” Galey said. “We’re confident we canhandle any extra flow, we just don’t know what it’s going to do tous yet.”