WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster said evacuations from the coast ahead of Hurricane Dorian were going smoothly and touted the early completion of lane reversals of I-26.
McMaster and his Team South Carolina briefed reporters on the ongoing preparations from the state’s Emergency Operations Center in West Columbia Monday afternoon.
“We know that we can't make everyone happy with these actions and these orders,” he said. “We know some people may be inconvenienced, but this is the best way to keep South Carolinians alive.”
The state’s Departments of Transportation and Public Safety were able to finish the reversal of westbound lanes of I-26 between the I-526 interchange in North Charleston and I-77 in Lexington County almost 90 minutes ahead of the planned noon completion time.
“The Department of Transportation began noticing a dramatic increase in the volume of traffic that was hitting westbound, that is, towards Columbia, and I-26 and has over doubled the number of vehicles on the normal day,” he said.
McMaster said that confirmed what they anticipated on Sunday, that without a reversal, there would have been gridlock that brought westbound traffic to a standstill, possibly for hours.
He did not say when the reversal would end. He also did not specify when schools in the eight coastal counties affected by his mandatory evacuation order would reopen, saying they would make those decisions later. But schools and state government offices in the remaining 38 counties were not expected to close, he said, because they did not feel shelters, which are normally operated out of schools, are not required so far.
“Everyone is getting out and they’re driving through Columbia, many are going on in Spartanburg and it appears that we will not need those schools to for shelters,” he said.
South Carolina Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said within the first two hours of the reversal, SCDOT saw approximately 5,000 vehicles using both sides of the interstate per hour. Hall said they initially saw traffic volume roughly double what they would normally see, prompting an acceleration of the reversal process.
The first westbound vehicles were allowed into the eastbound lanes at approximately 10:38 a.m. Monday.
“There is no doubt in mind whatsoever that if we had not implemented this reversal, we would have had gridlock,” she said.
Hall said drivers in Charleston, Mount Pleasant, West Ashley, North Charleston or Summerville can get on the reverse side of I-26 at the I-526 interchange.
Drivers who can’t get there can get onto the traditional westbound lanes of I-26 via at US 78 (Exit 205), at Highway 17A (Exit 199), Jedburg Road (Exit 194) or SC 27 in Ridgeville (Exit 187).
Once on I-26, drivers heading west in the eastbound side will have eight opportunities to exit I-26 before Columbia to get gas or refreshments. Those exits are in Ridgeville, Bowman, Orangeburg and Sandy Run, she said.
The South Carolina National Guard has approximately 1000 soldiers and airmen that are currently deployed to support the evacuation. Most of those are assigned with the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Transportation in executing the evacuation.
On Sunday night, McMaster ordered a mandatory evacuation for portions of coastal South Carolina counties and ordered the closing of schools in those counties until further notice.