VDEM shuts down I-64 for ‘lane reversal’ drill

Posted at 1:30 PM, Jul 21, 2013

NEW KENT, Va. (WTVR) -- Early morning drivers heading East on Interstate 64 were detoured Sunday.  Emergency management crews shut down the eastbound lanes for a "lane reversal" test.

A 26 mile stretch of 64 East was closed for more than an hour as crews tested communication procedures and equipment at traffic control gates on exit ramps.

If a powerful hurricane hits Virgina's east coast and a large evacuation is necessary, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) can close the eastbound lanes of 64 and reroute all traffic onto 64 West going the opposite direction.

Officials said the process makes it quicker to evacuate vehicles out of the Hampton Roads area and move emergency response crews in.  Lane reversal can only be ordered by the Governor.

"Thankfully, we've never had to do a large scale evacuation of Hampton Roads and reverse the lanes," said Bob Spieldenner with the VDEM.  "We don't have experience actually doing it, so practicing is one of the most important things we can do.

VDEM works with the Virginia State Police, VDOT, and the National Guard to facilitate the process.  Each agency was represented at Sunday morning's drill.

Officials said they learned a various things about the process that could be improved; mainly radio communication and damaged equipment on one traffic control gate.

"This exercise helps us figure those things out, and then we can go and make improvements," said Spieldenner.

Virginia is currently in middle of hurricane season.  The emergency lane reversal plan has never been implemented during a storm, officials said.