Town Manager Cliff Ogburn is proposing that the Town hire a “traffic engineer” consultant to study the summertime vehicle-count data that the Southern Shores Police Department has collected and prepare a report that would include recommendations for “addressing” residential cut-through traffic and congestion.
Mr. Ogburn will present his proposal to the Town Council at its Sept. 1 meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. The meeting is open to all members of the public who wear face coverings and practice social-distancing.
In a summary included in the meeting packet, the Town Manager advises that he has already “reached out” to five firms that may wish to be considered for the traffic engineer consulting contract, which he suggests would not exceed $7,500.
He also has been in touch with the Dept. of Technology Systems at East Carolina University and The Transportation Research Institute at Old Dominion University to solicit their expertise, he says.
“Staff believes that an independent analysis by a professional and objective traffic engineer or traffic planner of the problem and of the traffic county data that [have] been collected thus far,” Mr. Ogburn writes, “would result in a report indicating plausible potential solutions.
“These solutions, both in terms of policy and infrastructure, could then be vetted by the community and Council to determine a cost-benefit analysis as well as tolerance for their impacts.”
Mr. Ogburn describes the envisioned traffic study as a “detailed examination and analysis of a transportation system supported by data collection.” He does not rule out having to collect further traffic data, “such as hourly vehicle counts, speed, travel time, and time delay.”
See pp. 2-5 of the meeting packet at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-09-01.pdf
It is our expectation that the Town Council will unanimously approve Mr. Ogburn’s proposal.
NO-LEFT-TURN WEEKENDS; VEHICLE COUNT DATA
Northbound motorists were prohibited on five weekends this summer from making a left turn on to South Dogwood Trail from U.S. Hwy. 158 between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. During these weekends radar signs with data-collection features attached were positioned on highly traveled roadways in order to count the number of vehicles that traversed them.
(For more information about these signs and data collection, see manufacturer Trafficlogix’s website at trafficlogix.com.)
According to Mr. Ogburn’s summary, the Police Department collected vehicle count data at the following roadway locations:
On Duck Road (N.C. Hwy. 12), at Thirteenth Avenue, both northbound and southbound;
On Ocean Boulevard (N.C. Hwy. 12), at Skyline Road, both northbound and southbound;
On South Dogwood Trail, northbound, no address given;
On South Dogwood Trail near the entrance to the SSCA’s north marina, no direction indicated, but presumably northbound;
At 186 Wax Myrtle Trail;
At 286 Sea Oats Trail;
At 332 Sea Oats Trail;
At 274 Hillcrest Drive;
At 55 Hickory Trail.
Data collection on the residential streets north of South Dogwood Trail was only for northbound arriving traffic.
The Beacon is disappointed to learn that no vehicle data collection occurred on Juniper Trail/Trinitie Trail or on Chicahauk Trail in Chicahauk. Chicahauk property owners have long objected to blocking the left turn at the 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection because of their fear that motorists would bail to Juniper Trail as an alternative.
Empirical evidence of the impact on Chicahauk this summer would have been helpful to have. Anecdotal evidence suggests that motorists did not chose Juniper Trail as an alternate cut-through road.
While Mr. Ogburn refers in his summary to the Police Department having collected traffic data in Southern Shores since 2008, its collection before this summer was done sporadically, with an inconsistent methodology, and under different factual circumstances, making any pre-2020 data of questionable value.
According to Mr. Ogburn, “NC DOT [N.C. Dept. of Transportation] has agreed to further examine their own traffic count data collected on NC 158 and NC 12 in an effort to further assist the town with the problem.”
During public meetings of the Citizens’ Committee to Address Cut-Through Traffic, Town Council co-sponsors of the committee, Elizabeth Morey and Matt Neal, made clear that a study was the objective of the no-left-turn weekends this summer. Mr. Ogburn’s proposal may be viewed as the expected followup to what turned out to be five- weekend experiment in blocking the South Dogwood Trail left turn.
MAYOR BENNETT’S LONGTIME OPPOSITION
Nonetheless, those of us who participated in the mediated hours-long community workshop about cut-through traffic in October 2014 at the Kitty Hawk Elementary School and later witnessed Mayor Tom Bennett unilaterally reject the solution proposed by public consensus—implementing the no-left-turn option—and have since suggested other well-thought-out ideas for calming and/or curbing the traffic to a stone-deaf Town Council may feel that the proposed study is reinventing the wheel, this time by so-called experts.
But, to invoke another cliché, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and when Caesar opposes the construction, its completion can take far longer than it should.
Mayor Bennett has consistently voted during the past six years against prohibiting the left turn at South Dogwood Trail or taking any other actions suggested by homeowners to reduce cut-through traffic, and there have been many proffered.
The facilitator who mediated the 2014 workshop came from Raleigh and was paid with taxpayer money, but that didn’t matter to the Mayor, who was supported in his rejection of the workshop results by all four of the then-Town Council members, including current Councilman Leo Holland.
Adopting a Chamber-of-Commerce sort of attitude, the Mayor is on the public record as opposing any measure that would discourage or impede vacationers who use the Southern Shores cut-through route—even though dollars spent in Currituck County do not benefit Dare County.
What message does it send to tourists, he has asked, that they cannot use our roads?
Indeed, he cast the sole dissenting vote in April against holding the three no-left-turn weekends planned for July 4-5, July 25-26, and Aug. 1-2.
At the Council’s June 16 workshop, the Mayor said that he had long considered the traffic “the burden of living here”—and he was not inclined to try to alleviate that burden.
But, with the traffic crush of the June 6-7 and June 13-14 weekends, the Mayor finally felt compelled to act. He really had no choice: Public safety was at stake. And the Town was on notice.
June 13 was an especially bad day, with traffic solidly backed up from the Duck Road intersections with the dune streets (Sea Oats, Eleventh, Hillcrest, etc.) all the way to U.S. Hwy. 158 and the eastbound span of the Wright Memorial Bridge.
We recall this history because the Town has not, as Mr. Ogburn, who is a newcomer to Southern Shores, writes, “spent a considerable amount of time and effort in trying to come up with solutions to address the problem.” In fact, the opposite is true.
Until the June 23-24, 2018, no-left-turn trial, which former Councilmen Gary McDonald and Fred Newberry spearheaded, all the Town had ever done to affect the traffic flow was to conduct sporadic police checkpoints on South Dogwood Trail and Ocean Boulevard. To my recollection, none has been done since the 2014 workshop.
This summer is the first time that the Town has taken serious action to thwart the cut-through traffic and attempt to ameliorate the situation.
MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD
The Beacon is still on hiatus from the Town Council–still disbelieving, among other things, that it allowed Police Chief David Kole to write a First-Amendment-sensitive Town ordinance to bolster his department–but you do not have to be.
There will be two public-comment periods during the meeting, one after staff reports and before Council business, which includes Mr. Ogburn’s traffic engineer proposal; and the other after the Council has concluded its business.
You may speak in person at the meeting (subject to COVID-19 requirements) or email written comments to Town Clerk Sheila Kane to be read aloud by the Mayor or the Mayor Pro Tem. You also have the option of speaking for up to three minutes via Zoom by alerting Ms. Kane through the website’s chat feature that you would like to speak.
To send written comments, email Ms. Kane at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name and address and indicate in the email subject line: “Public comment for Town Council meeting, 9/1/20.”
Regardless of whether you choose to comment, you may join the Town Council meeting via Zoom videoconferencing.
It is very easy to Zoom, folks. All you have to do is go to zoom.us and sign up. You will be directed through a process that will culminate in the downloading of the website’s software to your computer’s hard drive.
Once you have signed up, you may join Tuesday’s Town Council meeting by clicking on the “join a meeting” link at the top of the Zoom home page and typing in the meeting ID and passcode when you are prompted:
Meeting ID is 920 9768 9159
Passcode is 537934
You need not even be seen on Zoom. If you right-click on the picture of yourself that appears on your computer screen once you have logged in, you may hide your image.
The meeting currently has very few agenda items and should be brief.
Also on the agenda are a modification and extension of the Town’s contract with Sandski, LLC, which provides its ocean rescue services. The current contract calls for full ocean-rescue service through Labor Day and a reduced presence after Labor Day until Oct. 15.
According to Mr. Ogburn’s summary in the meeting packet, “There are many indicators pointing to an extended tourist season beyond Labor Day and further into the fall. This increase will likely result in larger than normal visitors on the beach.
The Town Manager offers three options for modification/extension, which you will find outlined in the meeting packet, with estimated costs ranging from $13,500 to $23,000.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/28/20