GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport may have figured out a way to alleviate its greatest traffic nightmare. The city is analyzing the findings of a Gulf Regional Planning study that could make Highway 49 safer. That study urges the city to eliminate Highway 49's center turn lane.
The mayor says Gulfport hopes to use the Gulf Regional Planning study to secure funding from MDOT. With that money, Gulfport expects to create a landscaped median down the middle of Highway 49. So instead of cars merging into each other as they make left turns where ever they want, they'll have specific locations where turns will be legal.
Between Airport Road and Dedeaux Road, three lanes take drivers north. Three more lanes take them south. And one center lane lets cars make left turns. "I try to stay away from it as much as I can," said Jeff Graham. He was in the center lane Tuesday morning, waiting for an opening to turn into Krispy Kreme. Graham is very aware of the fact that the center turn lane causes so much trouble for so many drivers. "It's pretty rough sometimes. You have to be careful. But I wanted a donut pretty bad," he laughed.
From that donut shop, employees look out their window, and see more than their share of Highway 49 accidents. "It's very congested," Patrice McLaurin said. "Coming out there you can easily get hit. I've seen people get hit in cars and out."
Eddie Gorman oversees the truck drivers who carry fresh donuts to convenience stores. "It gets bad. I mean trying to make a left turn out of here going north is really bad," he said.
Gulfport commissioned Gulf Regional Planning to determine the best way to reduce traffic trouble on Highway 49, and other key roads across the city. The answer it came up with on 49 is to get rid of the center turn lane that runs from Dedeaux Road down to Airport Road. The study recommends turning it into an elevated median, with specific locations where cars can turn left.
Debbie Reed think it's the "best thing they could have done in a long time." Reed owns the quick lube in front of the Highway 49 Wal Mart, where it seems cars constantly collide into each other. "You hear the brakes squeal and we go running," she said. "We've gone out there and flipped cars over and gotten people out, to standing back and just hoping that the medical help gets here quick enough for them."
Mayor Brent Warr said the city's comprehensive road study could be the catalyst to make left turns off of Highway 49 quite a bit safer. The recommendation is for cars to have left turn access at just a handful of key points along the north south road.