Forces will be on the ground and in the air today when a planned hurricane evacuation drill tests lane reversal procedures for Interstate 26 and other roads in coastal South Carolina.
The dry run is planned from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on I-26, from Interstate 526 in North Charleston to Interstate 77 in Columbia.
During a real storm threat, I-26 will become a one-way westbound highway by reversing the direction of the eastbound lanes.
“We’ll be moving through all our procedures without actually reversing the lanes,” said Derrec Becker, spokesman for the state Emergency Management Division.
The evacuation exercise today is not expected to interfere with normal traffic flow. Intersections will not be blocked, and motorists will be allowed to move freely, officials said.
The I-26 evacuation plan was developed in response to a public outcry about massive gridlock in the westbound lanes of the interstate as residents rushed to leave the area when Hurricane Floyd approached in 1999.
Local emergency preparedness officials and politicians pleaded with the state to reverse the eastbound lanes of I-26 to relieve the clogged westbound lanes, where motorists sat helplessly for hours.
Seven hours after the governor’s office issued an evacuation order, the state Department of Transportation gave the green light for the public to travel west on the eastbound lanes of I-26. Floyd veered from the area at the last minute.
As part of today’s drill, simulated traffic-flow reversal will happen on U.S. Highways 21 and 278 leading out of Beaufort and Hilton Head, and on U.S. Highway 501 and S.C. Highway 544 in the Grand Strand area.
Hurricane season began Saturday and ends Nov. 30. AccuWeather.com predicts eight hurricanes during that time in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Three hurricanes are expected to make landfall in the U.S. Half of the predicted hurricanes will be major storms.
The S.C. Highway Patrol advises travelers on I-26 to use caution and be aware that officials and equipment will be located on the shoulder of the highway and at exits.
The State Law Enforcement Division, Civil Air Patrol, South Carolina National Guard, state Department of Natural Resources and state Forestry Commission will be flying surveillance routes. The DOT will deploy incident response vehicles.
Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.