26 September 2008

17 September 2008

Slidell: I-10 Exit 265 almost done...

Times-Picayune - New I-10 interchange at Fremaux Ave. in Slidell nearly ready

This was one of the places me, Froggie, H.B. and a few others visited the weekend before Gustav hit. It's a nearly-complete interchange along I-10 in Slidell meant to connect it directly to Business US 190. It's a standard diamond, with auxiliary lanes on the northern side along I-10 running to Exit 266 (US 190, a.k.a. Gause Boulevard).

Structurally, the interchange itself could be used now. Many final touches like fencing, however, are not done yet. Striping on half of the new Business 190 roadbed wasn't started at the time of our stop. Also, no signage is up at the interchange yet.

The interchange was supposed to be done a few months ago, but weather kept delaying it... and then the hurricanes came, pushing it back some more. Normally, all this delay would give me lots of reason to rake LaDoTD and the James Construction Group, who's contracted to do the work, over the proverbial coals, but let's face it. The whole state's gone through a trauma the past couple of weeks. I don't excuse them for the earlier delays. There's other contractors out there that get lots of work building and repairing our roads, and they get the work done lightning-fast. However, since the storms, what's more important?

It'd be nice to get this interchange finished and all, since it should have been done already. Thing is, there are more important things to worry about now, things that will likely require pulling in resources from elsewhere.

Screw the contracts. We've got new priorities now. Suddenly that elevated LA 1 project seems like something we need to get finished yesterday. Getting the new Twin Spans ready to handle traffic is another thing that needs to be on the fastest track possible, in case another storm sweeps in and cripples the old Spans beyond repair in the meantime. Another thing we need to look at is adding lanes to some of our most-used evacuation routes, either in a temporary or permanent capacity. Not to mention non-highway related necessities like modernizing our power grids and restoring our coastline. Let's get them done first, and let's not bitch about things that suddenly don't seem so important anymore.

05 September 2008

The Mother Of All Rants

No cable since Monday, nowhere to go, nothing to drink and nothing to do but listen to the radio. Story of my week. So I listened. And then I listened some more, and as I heard optimism change to pessimism, pessimism change to desperation and desperation change to outrage, I felt the same.

Gustav wasn't the "mother of all storms" that Hizzoner and his lackeys across the parish line was claiming, but true, it could have been much worse than it was. Grand Isle went underwater, but everything seemingly puts Grand Isle underwater during hurricane season. Nevertheless, virtually everyone and their brother in southeast Louisiana fled for their lives.

In my last post before the storm, I posted about the bottleneck along I-59 at I-20. Well, there's another one that bit people in the ass. You see, Gustav was a Rare Event. There were two ways to go to escape that ended up working out: North and east. I-55 played fine the whole way, and I already bitched about I-59, but there's one other way out of town... I-10. Sure, you couldn't just stay on I-10 through Slidell, you'd get forced onto I-59. If you were on I-12 eastbound, though, you were able to transition onto I-10 eastbound just fine. A bunch of people did just that, or they took US 90 eastbound. Either way, people got to the closed I-10 East. You had smooth sailing until you got to Alabama. Some people were smart and turned onto I-65 northbound toward Montgomery, Birmingham and Atlanta. Others figured on going even farther east to Florida (which in itself is a stupid decision during Hurricane Season.) So on they went... and met the most unholy of all bottlenecks along the entire Interstate System, the Mobile Funnel.

Yes, the Mobile Funnel. You're cruising along on a WIDE section of I-10 and then suddenly it sheds all but two lanes. Traffic backed up all the way to Mississippi at points due to this.

Strike one!

Eventually, people got where they were going, but for one reason or another, people just have to hurry and get back. Maybe they're the working poor who had to use their bill money to run, or maybe they're the paranoid ones who are rightfully concerned about the property they left behind because the Bad People will come and loot it all away. For the former, the sky-high costs of fuel and lodging screwed them. Regardless, the most they could stay away was maybe two days. So, they turned tail once the winds died down and started their trek back, learning from their mistakes and making it back inside a day.

Then they got stopped at the Twin Spans. They got stopped at the US 11 bridge. They got stopped at the Jefferson and Orleans Parish lines.

These people sat for HOURS with no food, no water and no fuel. These people had children, elderly and those with less-than-stellar health traveling with them. They watched as the Troopers, Guardsmen and parish deputies got food delivered to them so they could continue to turn away the weak.

So, people called in and bitched over the radio. Eventually, the All-Powerful Lord Broussard and others decided to let those people in. Some did so Tuesday (Lafourche, who I actually give high marks through this nightmare), some did so on Wednesday (Everywhere else except Orleans). Even St. Bernard Parish, which had virtually no power and restricted the movements of the citizens via a 24-hour curfew... THEY let people back in on Wednesday.

But Hizzoner stood firm on not letting the people back in until Thursday.

It's far better to let the people come back and assess things, maybe decide if they want to stay away a while longer until all the amenities come back, or stay despite no power and sewerage.

Broussard, Nagin, Davis... It is not your call, it's ours. Fuck you. Strike two!

Let's get back to the evacuation here. The best ways to go were north and east. A bunch of the Contraflow plan pushed people west, though. West was not the way to go. West got slaughtered in this storm. Baton Rouge suffered the worst hurricane damage in their history, and even at the time of this posting, is still suffering widespread power outages.

And Baton Rouge caught only a glancing blow compared to other prime Contraflow destinations. Lafayette, Opelousas, Alexandria... all of those safe havens to the west caught a LOT of damage. There was even damage as far north as Shreveport.

Problem is, Contraflow is only one plan. It scatters people in all directions, even when we KNOW the storm's going a certain way.

Contraflow succeeded somewhat in getting people out, but it sent many to places that caught much more damage than the New Orleans area did. What we need is variable Contraflow. We need different plans that can be changed in the event that the storm heads one way. Right now, you can't go east if Contraflow is active.

Ok, in theory you can go east on I-10 instead of getting forced onto I-59 Contraflow North if Mississippi doesn't call an evacuation, but if the storm's hitting anywhere that would force Southeast Louisiana Contraflow to be active, Mississippi's calling some sort of evacuation.

Either way, you can't go east, which SUCKS when the storm's coming to the west like Gustav did.

Unlike the Mobile Funnel situation, I've actually got an idea for this, but it's going to require Mississippi and Alabama to play ball. Let's call this Contraflow Plan B.
  • Keep northbound I-55 the same.
  • Leave I-59 as it is in normal Contraflow, but allow traffic to remain on eastbound I-10.
  • Traffic from eastbound I-12 contraflows onto westbound I-10. If you're coming from Mississippi for a hurricane heading west, you shouldn't be heading west. Sorry.
  • Contraflow I-10 through the entire state of Mississippi this way. Traffic entering the Interstate from Mississippi can use either the normal east or contraflow east lanes to leave Mississippi, or use northbound arterials to go north. (And build I-61 north, for fuck's sake!)
  • Entering Alabama from the west, I-10 remains in Contraflow until it reaches I-65.
  • I-65 north becomes Contraflow for about 20-30 miles, all lanes northbound. All traffic from Contraflow eastbound I-10 (the westbound lanes) will use I-65 Contraflow northbound (normal southbound). I-10's normal eastbound traffic will have a choice - two lanes to I-65 north, and only two lanes to eastbound I-10 and the Tunnel. All other eastbound lanes will be blocked off!
  • Normal westbound I-10 at Mobile will be forced to divert to northbound I-65 if they don't get off beforehand.
It could work if all three involved states (Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama) would play ball.

Strike three, yer out!

Regardless, evacuation went well, but repopulation failed because of the ego trips of all the leaders involved. Unless the roads are all under 2 feet of water or something, the people should be allowed to return as they feel it's safe. Instead of saying "You can't come back yet", tell us why we can't come back. We've got TV, Internet or radios. If there's a nest of live power lines down in Algiers, tell us this. If Metairie's under 6 feet of water, TELL us this! Don't just say we can't return, give us a damn good reason not to and let the people judge for themselves! We still have Katrina on our minds, being locked out for weeks, even months at a time. We're antsy because of the looting and such that occurred after Katrina. We're poor and can't afford to stay in hotels that gouge us half a month's earnings for two or three days and can't afford gasoline prices that have been speculated out of reach of the poor. People will not evacuate ever again due to this bullshit!

Every elected official in Orleans Parish, as well as parishwide leaders in Jefferson need to be removed from office. These officials dropped the ball on the final out of a perfect game.

That's right, the final lame baseball analogy... That's it, off to the showers. You're OUT the game!

Finally, a proposal. Feds, you listening?

STORM PROFITEERING

In the event of a hurricane warning, prices of food, automotive fuel and lodging shall be frozen at current levels in areas covered in the warnings, as well as likely destinations of the evacuating population. No establishment in these areas offering these items or services shall raise their prices in the event of an impending natural disaster, lest they face the same penalties as those prescribed by law for war profiteering. They may lower prices as needed to clear perishable stock, but cannot raise their prices past pre-storm levels afterward, although they may match pre-storm pricing if desired. This law shall remain in effect for 60 days after landfall of such a hurricane, although this period may be shortened or waived at the discretion of the President or a majority vote of either the Senate or the House of Representatives. The President or the aforementioned legislative majorities may also call for 15 day extensions of this period if conditions warrant.

The cruelest irony

The Friday after the storm, and now I can actually connect online. Power was back on in my place after only 12 hours, but it took til today to get the cable TV (and therefore my Internet) repaired.

Go figure. Would have preferred to have no power either, so I wouldn't know what I was missing so much.

Anyway, I've got a scathing rant to prepare about the Mobile Funnel, so laaaaaate.

01 September 2008

Theme of the overnight: Bitching about contraflow.


Yes, there's still power and Internet here, and I can't sleep, so I've been listening to WWL all night.

The most common theme I've heard is of traffic slowing to a literal crawl at various points along I-59 in Mississippi, and there's a few culprits.

1. There just aren't enough places for traffic to bleed off of the Interstate when Contraflow is active.
2. Mississippi evacuated their coast. Can't blame them for that.
3. This will take more than one sentence: the design of the I-20/I-59 merge in Meridian.

Specifically, it's a dangerous configuration, and woefully inadequate to handle Contraflow-induced traffic. I-59 northbound merging with I-20 eastbound seems innocent enough, as two lanes from I-59 make that junction. Before the end of the ramp, though, I-59's onramp contracts to ONE lane. This means that four lanes contract to two when Contraflow ends, then has to further contract to one before reaching merged I-20/59 east out of Meridian.

No wonder people get past Laurel and find a parking lot signed with Interstate shields!

People will be looking to point the finger big time about this. Heads will roll, and jobs will be lost.

My solution is actually extremely simple.

1. At the two or three mile mark to the merge, expand I-59 north to three lanes. Clearly sign the left lane as exit only to westbound I-20 assuming the current interchange design is kept. Sign the two right lanes as "through" to I-20/59 northeast.
2. At the lane split, keep two lanes for I-59 to I-20/59 traffic throughout the entire ramp. This will cause there to be four lanes on the merged section for a short stretch.
3. I-20/59 northeast sheds one lane, as it currently does, but contracts to three lanes instead of two. Make the rightmost lane auxiliary for the next exit, and provide LOTS of warning signage between the merge and US 11/MS 19, which appears to be the next exit after the I-20/59 merge.

If this isn't done, then to LaDoTD and the Mississippi DOT I say this: Don't bother listing I-59 north as an evacuation route, because people won't go!