New Traffic Plans Sends Louisiana Evacuees Into Pearl River County

Moving masses of people out of harm's way this hurricane season has the undivided attention of officials in Pearl River County. That rural area will feel the brunt of a new, controversial plan to move evacuating Louisiana residents through South Mississippi.

The contra-flow evacuation calls for all four lanes of I-59 to carry cars north to mile marker 21, just south of Poplarville. Interstate 55 would be all north bound out of Louisiana, up to marker 31 in Mississippi, which is north of McComb.

"I think between the two of us, we have a plan that will work this time," Major John Miller with the Mississippi Highway Patrol said.

That plan could put more than a half million cars on Interstate 59. Pearl River County has never seen that volume of traffic.

"We are going to get inundated by a lot of traffic here and we're going to have to deal with it. There's going to be a lot of people asking for something other than just gas. They're going to need medical attention, they're going to need food. They're going to be running out of this stuff and we're going to be asked to supply these needs," Pearl River County EMA Director Bobby Strahan said.

Law enforcers will encourage local traffic not to get onto I-59. Instead residents will be asked to travel Highway 11.

The hope is by contra flowing I-55, Interstate 59 won't become as congested.

"It will channel more traffic out of the New Orleans area up 55, as opposed to coming up 59. So it should relieve some of the traffic congestion on 59. It will also enable us to send some of those evacuees on into central Mississippi, say to the Jackson area, as opposed to coming through Pearl River County," MEMA Director Robert Latham said.

Officials know the contra-flow plan isn't fool-proof, but they say better planning will make evacuations easier than years past.

by Al Showers