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Highway Message Signs To Aid In Coastal Evacuations

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WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — The series of child abductions this summer added 'Amber Alert' to many of our vocabularies. The message sign system helps police find missing teens and children.

A new state Department of Transportation spending plan will help get the Amber Alert program started in North Carolina. The highway message boards signs will also help in natural disasters.

The DOT is spending $2.1 million for 12 new overhead message signs that will help when the state develops its own Amber Alert program. Amber Alert gets information out in the first few hours of a kidnapping, but the state said its new expenditure has a broader strategy.

The message sign at Interstate 40, east of Harrison Avenue, is currently the last message sign between the Triangle and the coast. The DOT said it needs more of the signs east of the Triangle.

Most of the new message signs will be installed between the Triangle and the beaches. Right now, drivers could miss the word on a storm or evacuation, but DOT officials said that will change.

"So we can let people on Interstate 95 know what's going on, let the folks on I-40 in either direction know what's going on. So it's really going to help us a lot in communicating the message -- especially in the case of hurricanes -- how to evacuate," said David Allsbrook, a DOT engineer.

There were monumental traffic jams as people fled Hurricane Floyd. The DOT now has a lane reversal plan, where all traffic would head away from the coast in a storm emergency. The message signs will help make it work.

"It's a very carefully made decision whether we will reverse the lanes. The storm has got to be getting pretty close to us and we really know it's going to happen. As we make that decision these message boards are critical," Allsbrook said.

The new signs will go up this month.

To help with storm evacuations, the new signs will go up at I-40 and I-95 in Benson, and at three strategic locations around the Wilmington area:

  • U.S. 17/N.C. 87 and U.S. 17/74/76 in Brunswick County (near Wilmington)
  • U.S. 421, 1 mile south of N.C. 132 (Monkey Junction) In New Hanover County
  • N.C. 132, 1 block east of King Drive in Wilmington
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