M-DOT crews battle blowing, drifting sand

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Blowing sand is covering traffic lanes, clogging storm drains and creating hazardous driving conditions. M-DOT maintenance workers are trying to keep pace with the wayward sand.

They're waiting for the strong southerly winds to die down, but that hasn't happened yet. Workers can get frustrated because the blowing and drifting sand covers the highway nearly as quickly as they clean it.

The southern district of M-DOT has dedicated nearly all of its maintenance crews and much of its heavy equipment to keep the highway open and safe.

So far, it's an uphill battle. The sand storm along Highway 90 is a formidable foe against an army of M-DOT workers.

"It's extremely bad. It's been bad, and it's gonna keep being bad. Strong winds, as strong as they are, it's blowing sand in as fast as we can pick it up," said M-DOT supervisor Speedy Rettig.

M-DOT supervisor Speedy Rettig helps oversee a dozen pieces of heavy equipment and a crew of more than 50 men working along Highway 90.

Along many stretches, it's tough to distinguish beach from road.

"When it's this bad, it really don't matter where you start. As a normal rule, we do try and take the worst areas and get them first, then work on the smaller areas. This is bad from one end to the other, so we've got equipment everywhere," said Rettig.

Drivers should avoid 90 if they can, or at least be extra cautious if they must travel it.

"The sand is very tricky to drive on. It can give out from under you, cause vehicles to turn unexpectedly. And with work crews right there, it is very hazardous," he explained.

Sand beach crews normally groom the sand, keeping it off the seawall steps but not in this weather.

"When we get a wind event like this, in a matter of a few hours it gets built back up and it ramps up. We've done the dune project. There's about 700,000 plants in the ground, but they're not mature enough to effectively catch this sand," said Sand Beach Director Bobby Weaver.

Not only is drifting sand a driving hazard, it's tough on your car. Especially brakes and air filters.

"All the air that you run through your engine goes through your air filter. If the sand is blowing, it clogs up. And you're not getting the proper amount of air. It definitely is not good for your car. It gets in your brakes and it's very harmful for your brakes. It'll eat up the rotors, eat up the pads," said Danny Leggett, owner of Leggett's Tire & Auto in Long Beach.

Thankfully, all that blowing and drifting sand doesn't have to be wasted. In fact, it's being recycled.

M-DOT crews are stockpiling it in the parking log at the foot of Courthouse Road.

Sand beach crews can then use this sand to replenish the shoreline wherever it's needed.

M-DOT is working 12 to 17 hour shifts to try and keep up with the sand removal. The project is expected to continue through the weekend.

Expect intermittent lane closures and do your best to avoid those sections of road covered with sand.

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