3/1/20: REPORT ON CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC MEETING: LOOKING TOWARD AN EXPANDED NO-LEFT-TURN TRIAL THIS SUMMER; Plus, Facts About the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Bridge Lawsuit

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Mayor Tom Bennett expressed support for an expansion of the no-left turn trial tried for one weekend in June 2018 to three weekends this summer during the heavily trafficked months of July and August shortly before the joint Town-sponsored citizens’ exploratory cut-through traffic committee-N.C. Dept. of Transportation (NC DOT) meeting adjourned last Thursday.

Trial expansion was a conclusion reached at earlier public forums about the traffic problem—and notably articulated by Town Councilman Matt Neal, who, with Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey, serves as an adviser to the committee–but it, curiously, was not the sole focus of last week’s meeting, as The Beacon had thought it would be.

Instead, committee chairperson Tommy Karole allowed free-ranging public comment, much of it repetitive of comments expressed in other meetings, to determine the flow of the dialogue among the six committee members; the four representatives from N.C. DOT who attended upon invitation; Town Police Chief David Kole; and the public.

DOT Division 1 Engineer Jerry Jennings, who said he had visited Southern Shores previously to discuss the traffic problems with Town staff and officials, was the chief spokesperson for the department. Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett also attended the meeting, but did not speak.

During the two-hour open discussion, Mr. Karole elaborated upon another idea for preventing northbound drivers from turning left on to South Dogwood Trail at Hwy. 158 and cutting through Southern Shores’ residential areas: that of installing a gate across both travel lanes of the road and issuing transponders to residents that would elevate the gate’s arms to permit their vehicles’ passage.

As Mr. Karole explained, the transponder, or signaling device, would be a sticker that a resident would place on the front bumper of his or her vehicle. The transponder would not be transferable to other vehicles, nor would non-residents be issued transponders. Instead, visitors who have business in Southern Shores would be able to punch an ever-changing code at the gate to gain access to South Dogwood Trail.

RESIDENTS URGE POSITIVE ACTION, SUPPORT FROM N.C. DOT

The transponder idea, which Mr. Karole said would relieve the police from any direct enforcement, did not receive the support of Chief Kole, who said he is opposed to closing any roads, but neither did the no-left turn trial or any other option suggested for curtailing the cut-through traffic.

Asked by homeowner Ursula Bateman, who lives on Sea Oats Trail where traffic backed up from Duck Road regularly blocks her driveway throughout summer weekends, what the Chief would do to ameliorate the problem, he shrugged his shoulders and replied that he has no solutions.

His humorous suggestion that residents rent out porta potties did not sit well with many residents.

The Beacon believes Seventh Avenue homeowner Paul Borzellino spoke for all residents who live on the cut-through route—which is ever-expanding—when he urged the Chief and the Town to set aside negative thinking and work toward moving the traffic quicker through Southern Shores on N.C. Hwy. 12 and away from the residential streets.

Mr. Borzellino’s sensible suggestion that police officers be stationed at traffic device-controlled intersections along N.C. 12 to move traffic along has been raised before. It met Thursday with the same reaction from Chief Kole as it did previously: The Town lacks “the manpower” to carry it out, he said.

In assessing the feasibility of implementing the no-left-turn option at the Hwy. 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection, DOT Engineer Jennings said he has to consider the “negative impact on the traffic flow of 158,” which is a state road.

South Dogwood Trail and other residential streets in Southern Shores—with the exception of a few private roads, such as a section of Fairway Drive and the road in Mallard Cove—are owned by the Town.

Mr. Jennings enumerated three concerns he would have about travel on Hwy. 158 if eastbound drivers were prohibited from turning left on to South Dogwood Trail:

  • Driver confusion, resulting from the fact that the road would be clearly open to traffic, but left-turners would not be able to use it.
  • Driver discouragement, resulting in drivers making U-turns on Woods Road or farther east at Duck Woods Drive.
  • Residents’ and other locals’ inconvenience.

In response to both Mr. Jennings’s and Chief Kole’s assertions that vacationers will get around the left-turn prohibition by making U-turns, homeowner Joe Van Gieson, who bikes around the area on summer weekends, said, “I don’t think we know what the effects of [the prohibition] will be.”

Mr. Van Gieson stressed that the Town has only one weekend of experience with a left-turn prohibition, and it was a lightly traveled weekend in June 2018, before the summer traffic crush. In July and August, he observed, Woods Road backs up with vacationers heading to the southern beaches by cutting through Kitty Hawk Village. Woods Road—which is the western extension of South Dogwood Trail in Kitty Hawk—is not an easy road on which to make a U-turn, he noted.

Both Ms. Morey and Mr. Neal politely pressed Mr. Jennings and the other N.C. DOT representatives to tell them what resources the department could give the Town of Southern Shores if it were to seek implementation of the no-left-turn option.

“What will N.C. DOT do?” asked Ms. Morey, before suggesting assistance with highway signage, public relations, information dissemination, and other similar support.

Earlier, Mr. Jennings said he would look into reprogramming the left-turn signal on Hwy. 158 so that it would not go through its green-yellow-red rotation and, thus, lead drivers to believe a left turn is still permitted—even though the lane would be blocked by barrels and a police car with its blue light flashing! During the June 2018 trial, the left-turn signal functioned normally, with no adjustment, creating unnecessary confusion.

Mr. Jennings said DOT could again post two signs on Hwy. 158 in Currituck County, just before drivers cross the Wright Memorial Bridge, warning of the upcoming left-turn prohibition, but he made no commitment to installing signage on the eastbound side of the road before the bridge.

Thursday’s meeting did not conclude with a plan of action to present to the Town Council, as The Beacon thought it would—in light of the Council’s upcoming fiscal year 2020-21 budget work sessions this month and in April.

Speaking with The Beacon after the meeting, Mr. Karole said he intends to convene another meeting of his committee soon to finalize its report to the Council, which he hopes to present at the March 24 budget workshop.

As for his transponder idea, Mr. Karole acknowledged that it is “too much for now,” but he intends to study it further.

“The technology is there,” he said. “It exists.”

The breakaway gates would be monitored by cameras, he explained, and they would be on a Town-owned road, so the N.C. DOT’s involvement would not be required.

SOUTHERN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER DOES NOT CHARGE LEGAL FEES

At Thursday’s meeting Councilman Jim Conners again drew attention to the efforts he has made with elected officials to promote the Mid-Currituck Bridge, which would connect the Currituck mainland with Corolla and allow northern beach vacationers to bypass Southern Shores.

This time the Councilman included U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, along with N.C. House Representative Bobby Hanig and N.C. Senator Bob Steinberg, among the people he said he has lobbied. All three officials are up for reelection this year.

While The Beacon appreciates Mr. Conners’s advocacy for the good of the Town, we cannot ignore a significant factual error he committed. In speaking about the lawsuit that “environmentalists” have filed against N.C. DOT and the Federal Highway Administration and which has halted progress on the bridge, he referred to lawyers running up “billable hours.” This is simply not the case.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which represents the plaintiffs in the N.C. DOT-Mid-Currituck Bridge litigation, does not charge legal fees. It is a public-interest environmental law firm whose $9.5 million budget is funded exclusively through charitable gifts from individuals, families, and foundations.

You can send a tax-deductible donation to the SELC, just as you would to the ASPCA, the Wounded Warrior Project, or another non-profit organization of your choice.

Further, the SELC’s clients are exclusively non-profit entities. In the Mid-Currituck Bridge lawsuit, which was filed in federal court last April, its clients are the N.C. Wildlife Federation (NCWF), a conservation organization founded in 1945, and the No Mid-Currituck Bridge-Concerned Citizens and Visitors Opposed to the Mid-Currituck Bridge, abbreviated as “No MCB.”

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit asserts essentially that the $600 million toll bridge across the sound will seriously harm “highly sensitive and important wildlife habitat in the Currituck Outer Banks.” This destruction, according to their complaint, will adversely affect NCWF members who “visit, recreate, fish and hut, observe wildlife, photograph, and otherwise use and enjoy the Currituck Sound and Outer Banks.”

The complaint also states that No MCB is a non-profit organization that was formed in 2009 and is “made up of more than 50 Currituck County residents, visitors, and property and business owners opposed to the construction of the Mid-Currituck Bridge.”

The “mission” of No MCB, it states, “is to protect the unique natural environment of the Currituck mainland and the northern Outer Banks, including the area’s fish spawning habitat, migratory bird habitat, wetlands, and beaches. No MCB believes that there are more cost-effective, and less environmentally damaging ways to address summertime traffic congestion that have been pushed aside in favor of this politically influenced project.”

You may access the plaintiffs’ complaint here: https://www.southernenvironment.org/uploads/words_docs/Complaint_FILESTAMPED.PDF

Founded in 1986 in Charlottesville, Va., the Southern Environmental Law Center is active throughout the Southeast, protecting natural resources. The chances are that among the SELC’s numerous projects, you will find many that you support. Case in point: offshore drilling.

A leading voice against offshore drilling, which the Town of Southern Shores officially has opposed, the SELC joined other conservation groups last year to sue the Trump Administration to stop seismic blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. The use of seismic blasting—airguns to test the ocean floor for fuels—is viewed as a step toward initiating offshore drilling.

See https://www.southernenvironment.org/cases-and-projects/offshore-oil-drilling

REMEMBER:

MARCH 3 IS SUPER TUESDAY: For links to sample ballots and other information about the primary, see The Beacon, 2/13/20. You may vote at the Pitts Center from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

THE TOWN COUNCIL WILL MEET MARCH 4, 5:30 p.m., IN THE PITTS CENTER: You may access the agenda and meeting packet here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-03-04.pdf.

The Beacon will post a preview of the Council’s agenda business on Tuesday.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 3/1/20

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