- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Transportation Commissioner Tom King would just as soon see any emergency protocols dealing with violent weather sit gathering dust with nothing but sunny days and blue skies.

But with hurricane season officially under way, King and personnel from the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Highway Patrol held a drill Tuesday to speed traffic evacuating from the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

The Hattiesburg American reports (https://hatne.ws/1IOC2xx) about 200 people took part in a “contraflow” drill.

The drill alternates years between Interstate 59 and Interstate 55. It mimics a scenario where the interstate would be closed to southbound traffic, opening all four lanes to bring traffic north during a coastal evacuation.

“It only takes place during Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes,” King said. “I-59 and I-55 are the only ones where we would have a hurricane evacuation, and it only takes place when the governor of Louisiana calls our governor, Gov. (Phil) Bryant, and requests the contraflow lanes to evacuate Louisiana.”

The only time that call has come was ahead of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The drill simulated reality, with various MDOT maintenance and construction technicians handling message boards, arrow boards, cones, trailers and barricades, while engineers and MHP troopers went through the routine as if an emergency situation existed.

“We’ve got a lot of new personnel with MDOT, and this allows us to make sure that everybody knows their part in this contraflow should it be called by the governor,” MDOT Engineer Kelly Castleberry said. “It also allows us to check our equipment, to make sure that we have everything necessary. If we find something that’s missing, we can go ahead and make a note should the real need arise.”

King said drills allow MDOT to practice for days it hopes never comes.

“”We’re talking about people trying to get out of the city of New Orleans, trying to get away from the coast, and head north.

“This (drill) allows the people with experience and familiar with this, to see the bumps in the road and what we need to do to iron these things out. In the end, it’s all about safety,” King said.

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Information from: The Hattiesburg American, https://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

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