Emergency Transportation Operations

Highway Evacuations in Selected Metropolitan Areas: Assessment of Impediments

New Orleans, Louisiana

#41-Most Congested
#46-Population (1,134,000)
INRIX® National Traffic Scorecard 2009

map of New Orleans, Louisiana

The Plan

According to interviewees, authorities update the New Orleans evacuation plan annually. The current plan is integrated into the Louisiana State Evacuation Plan, which is maintained by the Louisiana Emergency Management Agency. The New Orleans plan was developed right before Hurricane Katrina, and it has evolved based on lessons learned, corrective actions taken after Katrina and a couple of subsequent storms, and the adoption of good practices. Since Katrina, authorities expanded the designation of evacuation routes into Mississippi for the southeast and south-central parts of the State. Officials treat the plan as a "living" document which requires continual updates.

The New Orleans evacuation plan covers areas from New Orleans proper extending to all of southeast Louisiana, including Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. John the Baptist, Tangipahoa, and St. Tammany parishes, as well as Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes located south and east of New Orleans. The plan designates routes that continue into Mississippi. Officials coordinate New Orleans plans with other State and parish highway agencies, including Mississippi DOT. One interviewee mentioned that they would like to add evacuation routes through the southeast and south-central parts of Louisiana, especially through the Lafayette area, which is along the Mississippi coast.

Top Highway Impediments

Top Highway Impediments

  • Highway Flooding
  • Additional ITS Capacity
  • Insufficient Capacity
  • Lack of Emergency Lanes

Those interviewed identified the top five impediments to evacuating the New Orleans metropolitan area, as follows:

  1. Highway Flooding - Flooding of low lying portions of I-10 east of downtown New Orleans and flooding of low lying areas along US 90 in St. Charles Parish.
  2. Additional ITS Capacity - Authorities noted that ITS camera and detector coverage along I-10 east and west would improve evacuation operations.
  3. Insufficient Capacity - Capacity on National Highway System routes out of New Orleans would be exceeded during a large scale mass evacuation.
  4. Lack of Emergency Lanes - The highways designated for evacuating populations lack an emergency lane for emergency vehicles. Officials reported that once contraflow operations commence, they lose the ability to move emergency vehicles along those routes. They noted that emergency vehicles use other nearby routes, but no in-bound access routes exist for that purpose, other than Airline Highway. Respondents reported that the twin-span does not present a problem, since emergency responders use the shoulder of the twin-span as a third lane and contraflow is not conducted on that section. Emergency vehicles have some return access options, such as US 51 that parallels I-55. However, flooding problems at a couple of interchanges along US 51 could impede movement along US 51, although a project to correct the flooding is underway. Authorities report similar problems with routes that parallel I-55.

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