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Georgetown evacuation plan: No lane reversals

Anyone heading south on U.S. 17 through Georgetown during a hurricane evacuation will only have the usual two lanes for travel.

The state's hurricane evacuation plan no longer includes lane reversals or counterflows on U.S. 17 in Georgetown County.

The decision to eliminate any lane reversals was made after a discussion with all of the agencies involved in the plan, said Sam Hodge, Georgetown County emergency management manager.

A lane reversal requires a lot of staffing and the agencies involved "just could not come up with the staff to facilitate such a counterflow lane," he said.

Hodge estimated that it takes between 20 to 25 people to set up and staff a lane reversal, and with budget cuts statewide and fewer National Guard troops available, the county couldn't dedicate that many people to a lane reversal.

Despite predictions that the peak of hurricane season, from August through October, will be busy this year, the decision to do away with those lane reversals shouldn't have an impact on evacuees, Hodge said.

Lane reversals for U.S. 17 South in Georgetown County don't play a significant role in decreasing the overall traffic clearance time, according to S.C. Emergency Management documents.

The lane reversals could help clear jams sooner in the city of Georgetown.

By comparison, lane reversals during a Category 3 hurricane on Interstate 26 reduce the clearance time from 28 hours to 17.75 hours.

Hodge said lane reversals for U.S. 17 don't have a big impact on travel time because three lanes of traffic would be forced back into two lanes outside the city of Georgetown.

"It just creates a bottleneck as you go further," Hodge said.

He said that having four lanes bringing people into that bottleneck "just crams more people together on the road" and "magnifies the problem."

Since Hurricane Hugo in 1989, there haven't been any major road changes in Georgetown, but the population has increased, which means the area needs to "figure out a better way to evacuate," he said.

Joe Farmer, a spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division, said the decision to eliminate the lane reversals was made by representatives from Georgetown County.

"We write the plan based on their input," he said.

Farmer said the lane-reversal plan was "labor-intensive for law enforcement and would do little if anything to improve the flow of traffic out of Georgetown."

But the decision was made only a few weeks ago, Farmer said, past the deadline to make it into the 2010 S.C. Hurricane Guide. Visitors to the department's website will still see the old plan, including a lane reversal option for one of the northbound U.S. 17 lanes.

Farmer said in the event of a possible hurricane evacuation, the "official" plan will be well-publicized.

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