Summertime cut-thru traffic backed up on Hillcrest Drive on the curve before the SSCA tennis courts.

The Exploratory Committee to Address Cut-Thru Traffic outlined this morning an ambitious proposal to eliminate all seasonal cut-thru traffic in Southern Shores by gating two main residential roads year-round and blocking entry at other access points on summertime weekends.

In presenting the plan, chairperson Tommy Karole, who lives near the intersection of South and East Dogwood trails, stressed that his committee was not criticizing the recommendations made by consultant J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning in the study/report it submitted to the Town on Feb. 12.

Rather, Mr. Karole said, J.M Teague’s report, which suggests erecting physical barriers to cut-thru traffic, including installing a temporary gate on northbound South Dogwood Trail, serves as a springboard to the cut-thru traffic committee’s plan, which, Mr. Karole said, sets a better “mouse trap” than the one set by the consultant.

“We have the advantage of being down in the trenches,” Mr. Karole said about himself and his committee members, whom he said “have studied at length” how to alleviate the seasonal congestion.

(J.M. Teague’s report, “Town of Southern Shores Congestion and Cut-Through Traffic Analysis,” is available on the Town website through the News tab on the home page, at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov.

(For background on the report, see The Beacon, 2/18/21.)

The cut-thru traffic committee’s final written report will be submitted to the Town Council next week, Mr. Karole said in response to a query by Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey, who, with Town Councilman Matt Neal, is a Council adviser/sponsor of the committee, which was authorized by the full Council in June 2019.

Ms. Morey, Mr. Neal, and Town Councilman Leo Holland attended this morning’s nearly two-hour-long meeting, as did Town Manager Cliff Ogburn. Town Councilman Jim Conners attended the first part of the meeting. Mayor Tom Bennett was not present.

Whereas J.M. Teague recommends placing a gate near Widgeon Court on South Dogwood Trail that would prohibit northbound traffic on summertime Saturdays, Mr. Karole and his committee suggest installing gates on South Dogwood Trail and Juniper Trail that would block non-local traffic in both directions year-round.

As Mr. Karole explained, bar codes placed on the windshields of residents’ vehicles—perhaps incorporated into Town parking permits—would open the unmanned gates, thus enabling local traffic to pass.

“The gates would be controlled by technology,” he said, specifically radio frequency technology. “There would be a transponder at the gate” receiving the radio signals from the bar codes, which Mr. Karole described as measuring one inch-by-two inches and costing less than a dollar each.

The two gates would operate year-round in order to be perceived by WAZE and other navigation apps that direct motorists to the cut-through route when traffic backs up on U.S. Hwy. 158 and N.C. Hwy. 12 as permanent roadblocks, and, thus, dead-ends.

“We must own the phone,” said committee member David Watson, in order for mitigation to be effective.

Each gate also would be “supported by signage” on U.S. Hwy. 158, Mr. Karole said, informing motorists where they are, so they would avoid them.

To prevent summertime weekend traffic from “jumping off” of Hwy. 12 on to, first, Ocean Boulevard, at the cell tower; then, going north, Porpoise Run, Dolphin Run, East Dogwood Trail, Hickory Trail, Hillcrest Drive, and Eleventh Avenue—in a futile attempt to evade the Duck Road backup—the committee recommends either barring entry to these roads or making their entry available to “local traffic only.” 

Only entry on to these roads would be prevented, as Mr. Karole explained the committee’s idea. The roads themselves would not become one-way.

(After considerable discussion of what committee members referred to as “seasonal no-entry points,” The Beacon still does not see how westbound East Dogwood Trail could be blocked. We believe the westbound roads at the two traffic-light-controlled intersections—East Dogwood Trail and Hillcrest Drive—are problematic.)

Mr. Karole, Mr. Watson, committee member Vicki Green, Ms. Morey, Mr. Neal, and members of the audience held a wide-ranging exchange at this morning’s meeting, much of it concerning how and precisely where the two gates would operate; whether sufficient turn-around space would be available for the gates; what inconveniences the gates would present; how residents would be able to come and go if entry streets are blocked; and the “education” and “outreach” that would need to be done to notify both locals in Southern Shores and elsewhere on the Outer Banks, as well as out-of-town visitors, about the changes.

“We think this is a strong idea,” Mr. Watson said, but it is one that “needs to grow.”

Professional engineers, he emphasized, would have to tell the Town what can feasibly be done and how much it would cost.

Mr. Karole said he believes the committee’s plan “inconveniences the least number of people in Southern Shores. . . . It also takes the Chief [of Police] and his staff out of the loop.”

The Southern Shores police have monitored the U.S. Hwy. 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection during no-left-turn summer weekends.      

Both Ms. Morey and Mr. Neal—speaking for themselves, not for the Town Council—expressed an interest in taking some action to curtail cut-through traffic this summer, as well as in “exploring,” as Mr. Neal said, the mitigation suggestions made by the cut-thru traffic committee and J.M. Teague.

Mr. Neal said he would like to “tiptoe into the solution,” to “start experimenting and see where we’re going.”

Ms. Morey also spoke about using a “phased-in” approach.

Mr. Neal left little doubt that he is “committed to doing something this season,” while he also identified some of the issues—the Town’s potential liability, access for emergency services, for example—that would need exploring if features of the committee’s proposal were tried.

“I have plans for this summer,” he said. “. . . I will be campaigning hard for [cut-through traffic] mitigation. . . . I would like to try something.”

The Councilman pointed out that the committee’s plan represents “total mitigation,” and it may be that “less mitigation”—in whatever form it takes—is where the Town ends up.

Residents will get an idea of what the Town Council has in mind for this summer and in the near future when members meet next Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the Pitts Center for a fiscal 2021-22 budget workshop.

Mr. Ogburn told The Beacon this morning that he will be presenting a preliminary budget that shows a gap between expenditures and revenues, with the former exceeding the latter. Cut-through traffic mitigation is on the list of projects and plans that the Council will be prioritizing as it considers how to allocate revenues and balance the budget.

The agenda for the Tuesday morning workshop, as well as the agenda for the 5:30 p.m. Tuesday public hearing concerning the creation of municipal service districts to fund beach nourishment, were posted to the Town website while we were writing this article. You may access:

The workshop agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/WORKSHOP-2021.03.16.pdf

The meeting packet for the workshop here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2021-03-16.pdf

The public hearing agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Special-Meeting-March-16-2020.pdf

We will post a preview about the workshop and the public hearing as soon as we can.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 3/11/21


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