MDOT Officials Evaluate Contraflow Evacuation Plan

By Don Culpepper - bio | email

POPLARVILLE, MS (WLOX) - The mass of vehicles heading away from Hurricane Gustav pointed to the successes and the failures of the Louisiana-Mississippi Contraflow evacuation plan.

"People this time were ready to leave," said Mississippi Department of Transportation Special Projects Engineer Sharpie Smith.

"They heeded the warnings. They didn't heed them as early as they should, but they did decide, 'Hey, maybe we need to get on out.' And they did, which was a larger number of people than during Katrina."

But with all that traffic came traffic problems that MDOT officials are determined to address and evaluate.

"This is only the second time we've done this. We learned a lot off of this and we've got some plans to do some improvements," said Pearl River County Administrator Adrian Lumpkin Jr.

"In the Contraflow plan, it calls for Louisiana to block assess to I-10 in Mississippi in Louisiana," Smith said.

Smith said that's still a bone of contention in Louisiana. He also mentioned complaints of long lines on I-55 and I 59, which created bottlenecks at the exits.

"You could get off on all of the exits in the Contraflow section except for one," Smith said. "People got off. There was fuel at those exits. But if you're waiting in line for two hours, you've got a two hour delay."

Smith said they even opened their welcome center, which was not in the plan, to accommodate desperate drivers.

"There are some people who just will not stop and go into the woods to use the restroom."

Smith said improvisations like that are what will make contraflow work even better next time.

"It's a living document. It can be changed."

Contraflow lasted between 12 and 14 hours on the two interstate roads. Officials say residents wishing to avoid it, can do so by evacuating earlier and taking along extra supplies of gasoline, food and water.