A special cut-through traffic meeting proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting–during which, she said, recommendations from the Town’s traffic-engineering study consultant and the citizens’ cut-through traffic committee would be discussed–has not been agreed to by committee chairman, Tommy Karole, The Beacon has learned.
Mr. Karole told The Beacon today that “The committee would like to wait to see the traffic engineer’s report and use all of the information [that it makes] available before we issue our report.” He said that the committee, known formally as the Exploratory Committee to Address Cut-Through Traffic, “would like to be thorough.”
Ms. Morey, who is a Town Council co-sponsor with Councilman Matt Neal of the citizens’ committee, proposed the special meeting in comments that she made at the end of the Council’s regular monthly meeting on Tuesday. (You may view a videotape of the meeting on the Town’s You Tube site.)
Without speaking first to Mr. Karole, Ms. Morey said that his committee would be filing its report within the next two to three weeks and that the Council would “discuss all of the potential recommendations” for the problem of seasonal cut-through traffic at the special meeting.
Mr. Karole said his committee would not be prepared to do this. He also said that he was just informed Jan. 25 by Town Manager Cliff Ogburn that a Zoom information meeting he had believed for more than six weeks the Town would set up between his committee and traffic consultant J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning of Waynesville, N.C. would not take place. (See The Beacon, 2/2/21, for background.)
As The Beacon reported 12/14/20, Mr. Karole, who lives on East Dogwood Trail near its intersection with South Dogwood Trail, suggested an exchange of information at a Dec. 10 “progress report” meeting that the Town held for members of his committee and the two Teague engineers who were studying the cut-through traffic problems.
Both of the engineers, who appeared at the December meeting via Zoom, said they would welcome hearing from locals “on the ground”—“in the trenches,” as Mr. Karole described his committee members—and Mr. Ogburn said he would coordinate this session.
Mr. Karole sought scheduling followup with Mr. Ogburn, he told The Beacon today, until he learned from the Town Manager last week that his committee would not be given an opportunity to meet with the Teague engineers.
Ms. Morey attended the Town’s Dec. 10 progress report meeting via Zoom. Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilmen Leo Holland and Jim Conners appeared in person, but Mr. Neal did not participate.
Without specifically mentioning the cancellation of the meeting between the committee and the consultant, Ms. Morey explained Tuesday: “We as a Council decided to allow the consultant to put together his findings and to make his recommendations without influence” from members of the Town Council, the Town staff, or “members of the community.”
She did not say when the Town Council had decided this.
The Beacon recalls, and reported upon, the FY 2020-21 budget workshop last spring during which the Town Council agreed to commission the $7500 traffic study. The Town Council made clear then that it wanted to “keep the emotion out” of the study—as two Council members phrased it—and to ensure an objective, independent report. Objectivity, however, should not be compromised by the sharing of factual information.
Surely traffic engineers with decades of experience know how to receive, process, and evaluate information received from stakeholders in a project without being unduly influenced by any bias that may emerge.
During her comments Tuesday, Ms. Morey confirmed that J.M. Teague would file its traffic study report on Feb. 12 (a date the Town Manager gave her) and said that a special meeting had been “tentatively” planned for both the consultant and the committee to present their separate reports.
Ms. Morey reported having spoken earlier Tuesday to a member of the six-member citizens’ Exploratory Committee to Address Cut-Through Traffic, whom she did not name, about the proposed special meeting and said that this member was “completely OK with that.” She also reported that she had left a voice message on Mr. Karole’s phone.
According to Mr. Karole, Ms. Morey’s message was left at 4:10 p.m. Tuesday—an hour and 20 minutes before the Town Council’s meeting.
Mr. Karole expressed disappointment that the Town Council did not allow his committee to “get together [with the consultants] in the interest of sharing information.”
SEA OATS TRAIL CONSTRUCTION PROJECT MOVES AHEAD
In other roadway news, the Town Council unanimously approved Tuesday putting out for bids the repaving project on Sea Oats Trail from Eleventh Avenue to Duck Road.
This project, which already has been designed by the Town’s engineer, was ready to move forward last year, but the Town Council postponed it because it was concerned about a revenue shortfall during the COVID-19 crisis
The Council also considered soliciting contractors’ bids for the much larger Hillcrest Drive project, which also was postponed, but it decided not to go forward. Surveying and design work remain to be done on this project, according to Mr. Ogburn.
Councilman Neal reported that the Town’s Streets Committee, which met Jan. 21, did not recommend moving ahead with either project.
Mr. Neal, who co-chairs the Streets Committee—formerly known as the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee—with Councilman Conners, further said that the committee discussed at some length the implementation of a 10-year capital improvement plan.
It would have been more informative if Mr. Neal and Mr. Conners had explained why the Streets Committee–which is another committee comprised of “members of the community”–did not support either project. Minutes for the committee’s meetings are no longer being posted on the Town website, even though the committee is a Town Council-appointed and -sponsored committee.
The Beacon considers this lapse a significant failing, especially in the light of the fact that the committee’s meetings are not videotaped.
The Sea Oats Trail project has been estimated to cost $484,609, while the Hillcrest Drive project, which extends from the street’s intersection with Hickory Trail north to the SSCA tennis courts and is 3,700 linear feet long, has been estimated to cost $937,493.
The funding for the Sea Oats Trail project will come from the Town’s unassigned fund balance, which must maintain a $3 million balance as a hedge against emergency expenses, according to Mr. Ogburn.
SURPRISING BEACH NOURISHMENT AND MSD UPDATE
Tuesday’s meeting went in an unexpected and interesting new direction when Mayor Bennett suggested that the Town Council consider reducing “the scope” of the anticipated 2022 beach nourishment project along the entire Southern Shores shoreline and funding the scaled-down project in “a different way” than through levying increased tax rates on properties in municipal service districts.
The Beacon welcomes the Mayor’s new perspective and approach, but we need time to process what he said and the response he received from his colleagues on the Council, as well as from the Town Manager, before we report on what we heard. We need to percolate, if you will. We will get back to you as soon as possible.
In the meantime, we urge you to listen to the meeting videotape, which you may access via You Tube.
Despite this unexpected new direction, the Town Council unanimously approved scheduling a public hearing March 16 at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center about the two proposed municipal service districts and their boundaries.
We will discuss this hearing, for which Mr. Ogburn said “a Zoom option” would be offered, in an upcoming blog post.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/4/21; revised, 2/5/21