NEW ORLEANS — If you were around for Hurricanes Katrina in 2005, or Gustav in 2008, you'll remember contraflow on the interstate, but since then with all the major hurricanes that have hit the area, it hasn't happened.
That caused many people to sit in bumper to bumper traffic as they tried to leave the area.
In the next few weeks there are more life-changing anniversaries of major hurricanes than we care to count. And there are those who are concerned about future hurricane safety and evacuations as those infamous dates approach.
“I had friends stuck on the highway, and the guy jumped out with a gun and intimidated the ones that was in line so that he could get in front of everyone,” remembers Debra Campbell, just elected co-chair of the new Contraflow Task Force.
It was the question of this one woman who, lives in the Upper Ninth Ward, that pulled homeland security and emergency managers from several parishes together Monday morning. Debra Campbell of A Community Voice, wondered what happened to contraflow during all the hurricane evacuations over the last 14 years. So, she contacted State Representative Matthew Willard, and the Contraflow Task Force was created.
“If you have weather, it's a hurricane or any type of storm that's fixing to devastate your area, you're trying to get people to evacuate, don't wait for contraflow,” said Bill Douglas of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
The Louisiana DOTD explained that there are very specific criteria, like hurricane position and strength guidelines, mandatory evacuations and advance timelines, of when it is physically feasible to move everyone in place, and change hundreds of traffic signals to trigger contraflow. That must be 72 hours before stronger winds hit the coastline. The new task force wants to see if there is a way to be more flexible on when contraflow can be enacted.
“We are below poverty level, so a lot of our people can't afford to get out early, and that makes a hardship,” said Campbell.
And those contraflow plans, made back in the Katrina days need to be updated as storms in the last few years intensify later in the track, and much more quickly.
“So now we have to take that same initiative, and that same sense of urgency, and do the same thing for the Lauras, the Delta, the Idas, the Zetas, these storms that literally go from go from a Category 2 to a Category 4 in six hours. It's very challenging,” said the Director of Homeland Security in New Orleans, Collin Arnold.
And some want a siren warning.
“We've had a death in Arabi because of a tornado. He was coming home from work. He had no idea that this area was in danger, and he was killed,” said Campbell.
Contraflow directs you north, on I-55 to the west, and to I-59 to the east. There is no contraflow in Southwest Louisiana, as the state believes it is not needed in places that don't have as many people living in one area.