Winning Contraflow

a community voice ACORN Local 100 Louisiana

            Pearl River     For you to understand why House Resolution 127 passed in the recent session of the Louisiana legislature, as submitted by State Representative Matthew Willard, creating the Louisiana Contraflow Task Force is important, you first have to understand what contraflow is and recognize that in a world of potential climate and related disasters, preparation is critical.  Along the Gulf Coast and any of the hurricane havens from Houston to Florida, the concept is common knowledge.  Contraflow means that where traffic on highways would normally move in two directions, to facilitate rapid evacuations, all traffic on all lanes is rerouted to go in only one direction: out of harm’s way from the population centers that are threatened.  Traffic normally flowing in-bound becomes a contradictory lane, a contraflow, going only out-bound with limited, designated exit points.

Contraflow was common in Louisiana until 2008 and was widely effective in the evacuation from Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans in 2005.  In Hurricane Ida in 2021, it was not implemented by the State Police and Department of Transportation.  On some feeder routes like Highway 90 fleeing the city, alarmingly drivers in the miles of traffic buildups started using road shoulders and incoming lanes as contraflow roads themselves, heightening the risk to all.  The State Police rationale for not implementing contraflow in more recent emergencies is thin.  They claim they need 26 hours to prepare and that they have to be able to coordinate with neighboring states like Texas and Mississippi.  How hard could that be?  North Carolina only takes four hours to implement contraflow.  Don’t tell me they don’t know people next door.

A Community Voice, ACORN’s affiliate in Louisiana, has made this a signature issue.  They are still front in center of the on-going Katrina recovery and rebuilding.  ACV members were incensed at the obstacles to their evacuation in recent hurricanes.  They put together a coalition that included United Labor Unions Local 100, ACORN, and allied groups in St. Bernard, St. John, and St. James parishes and enlisted legislators, like Rep. Willard, to force the question.  The resolution gives the task force a year to complete its work and includes representatives of all of these groups along with parish government officials in the south Louisiana area to meet with the State Police and LaDOT to make a plan.

They’ve made great progress.  In their regular every-Thursday evening conference call for ACV members that they initiated weekly during the pandemic and still maintain, they visited with First City Clerk of Court Austin Badon, a frequent ally and supporter of the measure.  He informed the members that the State Police have now listed the highways that would be part of a contraflow plan on their website.  Some wanted to declare victory, but they know their work isn’t done until the task force is able to meet and come to agreement on implementation with the police and transportation officials.

For example, defining when an evacuation becomes mandatory, rather than encouraged and essential, becomes key, because the point is moving traffic efficiently before travelers are stalled for hours.  ACV also has included reviving siren warnings in the task force, which may seem old school, but where news is slow moving and internet access is still abysmal, many still recall when the city’s siren would go off daily at noon and regularly to alert residents of danger.  If it works, why not use sirens as well and be safe, rather than sorry.

In these times of climate concern and daily disaster reports, it would seem that these kinds of preparations would be commonplace, rather than contentious.  ACORN’s membership and leadership in Louisiana has been there and done that in disasters, and has their teeth firmly fixed on this issue in order to protect their membership and all people in peril.