Biloxi’s spring break traffic plan won’t be popular with anyone, official says

Traffic moves at a slow pace along U.S. 90 during Spring Break Weekend in 2016. Biloxi is looking at ways to control the traffic this year and make the event safer for residents and visitors.
Traffic moves at a slow pace along U.S. 90 during Spring Break Weekend in 2016. Biloxi is looking at ways to control the traffic this year and make the event safer for residents and visitors. Sun Herald File

Spring Break 2017 brought an estimated 60,000 people to the beach in Biloxi — more than the entire population of the city — along with traffic gridlock and a 300 percent increase in police calls.

“We cannot and will not have a repeat of what was experienced,” Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich promised after last year’s event. Most of the crowd was consolidated in less than a mile of beachfront from the Coast Coliseum to Edgewater Mall. First responders couldn’t move through the traffic and crowds, endangering residents and visitors, Gilich said.

With three months to go until Spring Break 2018 on April 13-15, the estimate already is for an even larger crowd of 70,000, and Biloxi Police Chief John Miller said, “I fully expect that.”

Miller is first up on Tuesday’s Biloxi Council agenda to go over the details of the plan that would take U.S. 90 thru traffic along the beach down to one eastbound lane and one west bound lane on that Friday and Saturday. The other lane in each direction would be restricted to police, fire and ambulance, extending 6 miles in each direction from the I-110 onramp near the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino to the Gulfport line at DeBuys Road.

The plan also calls for adding $48,768 to the police budget to hire additional police for spring break and $231,000 for cones and barriers, which could be used for other city events, to close traffic lanes.

“This plan is not going to be popular with anyone,” predicts Vincent Creel, Biloxi public affairs director, but he said the city did the same reduction of lanes in 2001 after the first spring break in 2000 caused many problems in the city.

“We were overwhelmed the first year,” Creel said. “Last year was a challenge.”

Miller said the plan, if approved by the council, will be very fluid. Traffic would go from four lanes to two before the event even starts, he said, possibly Thursday night or early Friday, depending on how early the crowd arrives. Once traffic gets heavy, he said closing lanes would be difficult

This would set up traffic for venting, which he said won’t take place until vehicles start backing up. At that point, all the turning bays on U.S. 90 and into the neighborhoods on the north side of the highway would be closed.

“Traffic will move slow,” he said, and added, “Half the amount of cars moving is better than double the cars not moving.”

Miller said he expects people to say closing lanes will create even bigger traffic problem. But he believes it will be safer for motorists and pedestrians crossing the highway.

“In the past all it’s taken is one car to break down and traffic stops,” he said. With this traffic pattern, the car can be pulled into the emergency lane and traffic will continue to flow, he said.

Creel said he expects people to ask why the lanes will be closed for Spring Break 2018 when they are open for Cruisin’ The Coast, Scrapin’ The Coast and other big events.

“We base our plan on what we have seen the prior year and plan accordingly for the next year,” Creel said. Biloxi does close lanes for Mardi Gras, he said. Cruisin’ stretches out over eight days and three counties, while Spring Break 2018 concerts and entertainment will be centered in one small area around the Coast Coliseum.

Every hotel in the area was filled for last year’s spring break and city officials said they hope spring breakers will park at the Coliseum, at the nearby golf course or at their hotels and enjoy the festivities as pedestrians.

Spring Break plans

What: Biloxi Council President Paul Tisdale will hold a Ward 5 meeting to discuss Spring Break 2018 plans.

When: 6 p.m. Feb. 1

Where: Second floor of Donal Snyder Community Center, Pass Road