SC conducts drill to lessen hurricane evacuation traffic jam

DOT crews put these barricades next to an on-ramp where they would be used for a real hurricane evacuation.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – South Carolina conducted its annual hurricane lane reversal drill Wednesday, with hundreds of DOT workers, state troopers, local police, and other state agencies practicing how they would evacuate the coast as quickly as possible.

They put traffic cones and barricades at points all along I-26, doing everything they would during a real emergency except actually block traffic and redirect it. Before a hurricane, the cones and barricades would go up at highway on-ramps to prevent drivers from getting on I-26 like normal, since during a real lane reversal all lanes of traffic would be coming away from the coast.

The state started practicing lane reversals after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Before that storm, traffic away from Charleston was bumper-to-bumper from beyond Columbia all the way to Charleston, with the 90-mile drive taking some people 10 or 12 hours.

Highway Patrol Lance Corporal David Jones says the drill is important because an event like a hurricane affects the entire state. “Traffic’s going to be horrendous during that period,” he says of a hurricane evacuation. “But this is a time for us to come together and practice. That way, in the event of an actual hurricane, we’ll know what routes to take. We’ll know what resources to deploy. And not only does it affect the Midlands but the Upstate’s going to see a major influx of traffic as we push citizens toward the upper part of South Carolina.”

He says the drills are also important because troopers and DOT workers retire or change jobs, so new troopers and employees need to get the experience the drills provide.

“This isn’t the only time we do it,” Jones says. “This is a full-scale exercise. Throughout the next several months, Emergency Management Center, along with the Highway Patrol and other state agencies, we’re going to practice this non-stop. That way, the citizens of South Carolina have a full confidence that, in the event of a natural disaster, that we’re going to be ready for it.”

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