It took evacuees hours just to move a few miles on Highway 49, as Hurricane Ivan approached last September. To prevent bottlenecks this year, law enforcement officers will be stationed along 49 to manually control the traffic signals.
"They've put switches on those lights. So now those lights can be overridden. So we can actually keep them green as long as we want to," MEMA Director Robert Latham said.
Another problem was too many cars heading north on Interstate-59, trying to get on 49. This time, drivers travelling on I-59 will have to stay on 59.
"On the 59 exit ramp north of Hattiesburg, that loops off to get off 49 that everybody wants to get off, backs up traffic on 49. Now that interchange will be closed. You won't be able to get off there. If you get that far, we're going to keep you moving north on 59 toward Laurel."
And to reduce congestion in Hattiesburg, only evacuees will be allowed on 49.
"Local Hattiesburg traffic will not be allowed to cross 49, except using overpasses which does not interfere with evacuation traffic."
MEMA officials say despite these attempts to speed-up traffic, expect delays along the way.
"People need to understand that during an evacuation, you're not going to be able to clip along 60-70-80 miles an hour. If there's an evacuation, and you don't leave early, you're only going to be moving 15-20-25 miles an hour."
MEMA says the best way to avoid the traffic headaches on Highway 49 is to take an alternate evacuation route . You have several choices:
- In Harrison County, take Mississippi Highway 15 north toward Laurel.
- Highway 53 north is another alternative.
- From Jackson County, take Highway 57 or Highway 63 north.
- In Hancock County, Highway 43 is a good route north toward Columbia.
- Highway 603 will also get people north of Hancock County and connect to Highway 53 heading into Poplarville.