An evacuation of South Carolina’s coast was ordered by Gov. Henry McMaster Monday. That means hundreds of thousands of people, potentially more than a million, will have to head inland in an attempt to escape the impact of Hurricane Florence.
For many, they will drive from the Low Country, Grand Strand or Pee Dee area.
In an effort to help facilitate a safe and timely evacuation, part of McMaster’s order includes reversing lanes on a number of major highways in South Carolina. The reversals are scheduled to begin Tuesday at noon.
McMaster was aware of the burden his order has put on those who will be temporarily displaced.
“We know the evacuation order I’m issuing will be inconvenient,” McMaster said at a news conference. “But we’re not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina.”
At mid-morning Tuesday, the S.C. Department of transportation reported “four to six times the traffic volumes coming out of Myrtle Beach,” “three times the normal volumes on I-26 out of Charleston” and twice the “normal volumes on U.S. 278 from Hilton Head.”
This is the third year in a row S.C. highways will be reversed because of storm evacuations.
To help the massive migration, the S.C. Department of Public Safety and the S.C. Department of Transportation will “reverse the direction of traffic along certain evacuation routes to ease the flow of traffic away from the coast,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
For drivers heading from Charleston to Columbia, I-26 will have a full four-lane reversal. The SCDOT reported it will begin at the interchange of I-526 and I-26, with other entry points for those leaving Charleston.
“Once motorists get to Columbia area, we’re going to return the reverse traffic back to the normal configuration just before Interstate 77,” said Rob Perry, SCDOT director of traffic engineering.
When drivers reach that point, SCDOT reported that those in the normal westbound lanes will be sent to I-77, allowing reverse traffic in eastbound lanes to cross over and continue on I-26.
The reversal could create issues for drivers in Columbia looking to take their morning commute.
Setup for the reversal will begin at 5 a.m. and South Carolina Highway Patrol troopers will “flush” traffic at 8 a.m., according to Trooper Bob Beres.
I-26 will not be the only highway to have traffic reversed.
Lane reversals will occur on U.S. Route 501 in multiple spots on the highway which goes from Myrtle Beach to Virginia, according to the statement from the governor’s office. Additionally, Highways 278 and 21 in Beaufort will also reverse, if warranted.
SCDOT has some advice for drivers who are being evacuated. Those motorists are urged to check that they have enough gas to make the drive and are being told not to stop unless it is an emergency.
For the drivers in the reversed lanes, it will be difficult to exit before the interchange since many of the ramps were not designed to accommodate traffic coming from the opposite direction, according to Capt. Kelly Hughes of the S.C. Highway Patrol.
This is not the first time McMaster has ordered an evacuation, that has included lane reversals. As Hurricane Irma approached South Carolina in 2017, McMaster made a similar decree The State reported.
His predecessor, Nikki Haley also ordered an evacuation of coastal counties in 2016, before Hurricane Matthew made landfall in South Carolina. That storm was 1,000 miles away when then Gov. Haley ordered reversed lanes on I-26 before Matthew caused destructive flooding.
Haley’s order for Hurricane Matthew was the first time lanes were reversed to carry more traffic since 1999, when then Gov. Jim Hodges made the decree after many traffic jams from those fleeing Hurricane Floyd, postandcourier.com reported.
Lane Reversals on Evacuation Routes
▪ I-26, from Charleston to Columbia
▪ US-501, from SC-544 to US 378; and SC-22 to SC-576
▪ US-278 and US-21 — if traffic conditions warrant
Source: Office of the Governor, Henry McMaster