Interstate 10, a highway that spans from Florida to California, is driven by hundreds of thousands of people every day across the U.S.
But on the Mississippi Coast, it’s also the site of many accidents, traffic snarls and road closures — and it’s recently gotten so much attention that one portion of the interstate in Hancock County is dubbed a “death trap” by some local commuters.
The portion of I-10 at the Mississippi-Louisiana state line has made headlines multiple times over the last year, particularly after a semi-truck hauling BMWs crashed on the bridge that connects Hancock County to St. Tammany Parish in January.
The fiery wreck closed both lanes of the bridge for hours, then one lane of the bridge was closed for months for repairs, causing daily traffic delays for hours.
In an almost identical spot earlier this month, another 18-wheeler caught fire after crashing into the bridge railing. Another incident in March saw a four car, one eighteen-wheeler pile up that sent six people to the hospital, one of which had to be evacuated by a medical helicopter.
Traffic snarls at the state line were made worse when the West Pearl River bridge closed for repairs in Louisiana. Commuters could often take the scenic route on U.S. 90 through Pearlington and into Louisiana, but the bridge closure now makes that impossible.
The high volume of traffic that moves through the interstate every day may be a contributing factor to these traffic accidents, officials with the Mississippi Department of Transportation said.
Anna Ehrgott, MDOT’s public information officer, told the Sun Herald in an email that more than 46,000 vehicles travel on I-10 around the state line bridge daily. The highway is utilized by many commuters who travel to get to work, and so traffic on I-10 is most congested during peak commuting hours on weekdays in the mornings and afternoons.
I-10 commuters speak out
Though many commuters who travel this route daily have not been in an accident themselves, everyone has heard of the I-10 pile-ups and 18 wheeler fires that have made headlines this year.
“Specifically on that bridge going into Louisiana, it’s all been 18 wheelers,” said Brian Velasquez, a Mississippi resident who drives I-10 to Slidell every day on the way to work.
“I tell all my friends that I-10 is a death trap because there’s always something happening on I-10,” Velasquez said. “I live in Diamondhead, and from Diamondhead to the state line there’s always something, at least twice a month.”
Many Mississippi residents have had their fair share of close calls on I-10. Wesley Roy, another commuter, said that one time while he was driving on a two-lane section of the interstate side-by-side with another vehicle, a third car squeezed right in between the two lanes to try to pass.
Roy lives around Biloxi and Ocean Springs and works in Slidell. He said that the majority of I-10 incidents seem to center around the Pearl River Bridge.
“When you go up on the bridge there’s this narrowing effect that people have because the shoulder widths are very thin, so people slow down, and if someone changes their speed that’s where the accident happens, right before you get on the bridge,” Roy said.
Roy is a civil engineer who has worked on road design before. He told the Sun Herald he thought that wider shoulders and more lanes may help with traffic congestion and accidents on and around the state line bridge.
MDOT has plans to make I-10 safer
MDOT has plans in the work that they say will make I-10 safer in Hancock County.
There’s a 2023 project scheduled to make median improvements from the Louisiana state line to Mississippi 603 (Exit 13), Ehrgott said.
“MDOT is working towards implementing more technology in the region to assess and alert drivers of traffic conditions in the area,” Ehrgott said. “MDOT’s first priority is safety and as such, we make safety improvements to roadways as much as possible.”
Ehrgott also urged the public to obey the speed limit and rules of the road. Mississippi Highway Patrol Cpl. Cal Robertson said the most common cause of accidents on I-10 is distracted driving.
“The roadway itself is inspected regularly and is safe for travel, but we know that drivers do not always make safe decisions behind the wheel,” Ehrgott said.
A look at I-10 wrecks in three Coast counties
Robertson provided data about wrecks on I-10 across the three Coast counties.
The data is from Nov. 17, 2021 to Nov. 19, 2022:
Hancock County: 173 wrecks, five of which were fatal
Harrison County: 223 wrecks, two of which were fatal
Jackson County: 423 wrecks, six of which were fatal