ALDOT practices lane-reversal plan

Published 11:07 am Monday, June 27, 2005

By By Adam Prestridge
There's only one time motorist can drive on the wrong side of the road without being ticketed.
But don't get too excited, that time is only when a hurricane is approaching the Gulf Coast.
Tuesday and Wednesday employees with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency rehearsed the state's lane reversal plan on Interstate 65 that helped safely evacuate Alabamians from the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Ivan. Various other agencies along I-65 from Mobile to Montgomery assisted in the rehearsal.
The state agencies were directed to rehearse the evacuation plan by Gov. Bob Riley.
"The Alabama Department of Transportation's well-planned and practiced I-65 lane-reversal plan was the key to the evacuation of thousands of people from the coast before Hurricane Ivan came ashore last fall," Gov. Riley said. "These annual rehearsals ensure that we remain prepared to quickly evacuate our citizens if necessary."
In the event of a severe tropical storm or hurricane, an ALDOT employee is stationed at the state EMA emergency operations center in Clanton, and EMA would be involved in helping manage any evacuation ordered by the governor.
The plan to reverse traffic on I-65's southbound lanes was developed after Hurricane Floyd hit the East Coast in 1999. It has been rehearsed by state agencies since 2000. ALDOT special assistant to the director Tony Harris said Hurricane Ivan was a true test of evacuation plan.
"When we implemented it last fall it worked very well," he said. "The only time we've done this for real was during Hurricane Ivan and we felt like it was a really significant accomplishment. We didn't lose any lives to traffic accidents as a result of the lane reversal or any lives as a direct result of Hurricane Ivan."
Five checkpoints were set up in Escambia County during the rehearsal. They included, interchange 54 at Co. Rd. 1; exit 57 and Hwy. 21; exit 69 and Interstate 65 and two crossover points located between exits 54 and 57 and exit 57 and 59.
While rehearsing, agencies go over a checklist to assure all procedures are being followed properly. Traffic was not reversed during the run through of the plan.
"We have a checklist that we go through that is about 110 steps long and they (state employees) have gone through that entire checklist," Harris said Wednesday afternoon. "One of the traffic analyst said it was like going through the steps you would take to bake a cake, without actually turning on the oven. We've done all that we could do today that we would do in the case we change the traffic flow."
The plan also requires 200 ALDOT employees, up to 80 state troopers, and additional personnel from state and local emergency management and local law enforcement agencies.
Since the agencies weren't able to practice shifting the flow of traffic, Harris said the drill is intended to make sure all the equipment needed in the event of an evacuation are in place.
"If we identify any problems today we will discuss those and take corrective actions to assure that if a lane reversal is needed it will be performed efficiently and safely," Harris said. "Those things are important because when you start moving that number of people from the Gulf Coast north, it's important to do it in efficient way."
Harris said the state also hopes by rehearsing the evacuation plan that everyone in the state will take the time to go over their family's evacuation checklist in case an evacuation is ordered.

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