Harrison County

Orange cones, venting: What to know about traffic, parking during black spring break

Adding tens of thousands of people on the Biloxi peninsula means traffic issues this weekend during black spring break.

The crowds typically start arriving Friday night, and the worst of the traffic comes then and all day Saturday. Pedestrian traffic is concentrated from the Mississippi Coast Coliseum to Edgewater Mall.

Traffic generally is controlled in three steps:

Orange cones will be in place between the lanes on U.S. 90 and will be ready to move into place once traffic gets very heavy. The orange cones also are recently used for other major events that cause traffic back-ups in Biloxi. Police officers are stationed at the intersections to make sure the barricades remain in place, Chief John Miller said.

Using the cones at events last year showed there were fewer accidents and tickets, he said.

Lane restrictions will be the next step, pushing traffic down to one lane in each direction for 9 miles along the beach — with the center lane in each direction open only for emergency vehicles. That decision will be based on the amount of traffic and how fast it’s moving, Miller said.

“We won’t go to one lane at all unless we have to,” he said. Once they see traffic building, “We have to do something or else we’ll have gridlock,” he said.

Venting is done when traffic is extremely heavy, like just before the Saturday night concert at the Coliseum. Police shut down all turning bays and access to all roads off U.S. 90, so eastbound drivers can’t turn left into the Coliseum, they have to go down to Interstate 110 and come back westbound.

“We force traffic east and west,” Miller said. This could happen with all the lanes still open. Drivers are forced to stay on 90 until they are allowed to turn, which could be miles away.

Last year a full vent, when all traffic is directed north to I-10 in Gulfport and Biloxi, wasn’t needed. The good thing about venting is that “it usually lasts 30 to 45 minutes,” Miller said.

For a couple of neighborhoods, U.S. 90 is the only access and Miller said people have to get to and from home to work. The city no longer gives out passes to allow residents to turn into their streets, he said, but they do help residents get through the traffic.

Miller suggests those going to Saturday’s concert and other events not wait to leave until an hour beforehand, but they should go early and stay late to avoid traffic issues.

Parking is available at the Coast Coliseum. Private paid parking lots also are available along U.S. 90. Organizers tell spring breakers not to park at hotels where they aren’t a guest, at apartment complexes where they don’t live or at restaurants when they aren’t eating. Last year, 62 vehicles were towed and 279 traffic tickets were issued during spring break.

Bus service is limited during spring break due to the heavy traffic. Coast Transit will suspend bus service on U.S. 90 at 12:30 p.m. Friday and there will be no Beachcomber buses running along the beach on Saturday or Sunday. Bus service on Pass Road and the streets around the mall will be suspended Friday evening and Saturday.

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Mary Perez is the business and casino reporter for the Sun Herald and also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.
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