With a crowd of 125,000 or more expected this weekend for Black Spring Break, Biloxi officials are closing up a new kink in the traffic plan that will vent vehicles along the beach and to Interstate 10 without any turns if it gets very heavy.
The problem in the plan surfaced when residents began showing up Wednesday at Biloxi City Hall looking for a pass they thought would get them special access to their neighborhoods off U.S. 90.
Only residents of the Briarfield area directly west of the Coast Coliseum were supposed to be given passes because they have just one road to get in and out of the area, "and it goes straight to Highway 90," said Cecilia Dobbs Walton, assistant public relations director for Biloxi. She said that's probably a few hundred people who live in apartments and homes in the area.
"Passes have already been given to these people," she said.
"These residents are surrounded by Spring Break," said Vincent Creel, public affairs director for the city. In addition to a concert Saturday at the Coliseum, much of the activity is expected to again be concentrated on the beach between the Coliseum and Edgewater Mall.
But more than 1,000 passes were printed and were being handed out, Creel said.
"If we had that many passes it would compromise the plan," he said.
Councilman Paul Tisdale asked for 1,700 passes and was seen on television news handing them out to residents and business owners, said Councilman Robert Deming III.
"You can't wave a golden ticket," Deming said. Police will not remove barricades because a driver has a ticket, he said, and locals who are on the roads when venting occurs will be required to drive to Ocean Springs or Gulfport without turning, just like all the other drivers, he said.
Access to businesses won't be closed, he said, but access to neighborhoods will. With the exception of those living to the west of the Coliseum, residents of other areas along U.S. 90 will have to use secondary access.
Tisdale said this is the fifth year he's handed out passes to residents who live in his ward west of the Coliseum. A shortcut through the Coliseum parking lot to Beauvoir Road was created by the management of the Coliseum and Tisdale said, "That pass allows them to use that shortcut."
This year he also gave passes to residents at Edgewater Park and the Beau View condos, he said, along with businesses on U.S. 90 for use by their employees. The Biloxi Police also requested he provide passes to residents of Channel Mark subdivision and Cove Drive, Tisdale said, because barricades will be used to keep drivers from using roads near the community college as an alternative to Pass Road.
Passes only identify residents to police, he said. They don't let allow residents to use the emergency lane or get out of line if traffic is being vented. "It merely verifies you as belonging in that area," he said.
Traffic will be down to one lane in each direction on U.S. 90 to allow access for emergency vehicles during the event. But traffic could be less of an issue if the weather is as bad as predicted, with the possibility of 2 to 4 inches of rain on Saturday and possible tornadoes.
The city still is proceeding with plans for a huge crowd, despite the weather.
"We have to prepare for that," Creel. said.