Weekend Woes for Travelers to the OBX
Visitors who cross our bridges during the upcoming fall weekends will no doubt be relieved of summer congestion and hours of waiting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. What we offer for you here are tales from peak-season traffic snarls and perhaps a few helpful hints for those of you planning next year‘s fun in the sun. Also, with upcoming bridge repairs commencing again after Labor Day, our new, single-lane traffic pattern will make weekend crossings more congested. Travelers (and rental companies) take heed.
Arguably the worst place to be on a Saturday or Sunday in the summer is the US 158/NC 12 intersection in Kitty Hawk, where drivers turn toward Duck and Corolla. Not only is the traffic verging on dead stop, but drivers making a left onto NC 12 tend to get stuck in the middle of the intersection, blocking other vehicles from getting anywhere.
Sergeant Brian Strickland of the Kitty Hawk Police Department says, “I think we have had more calls this year about the intersection being blocked than ever before.”
The issues at the intersection stem from a much larger problem. Two southbound lanes and two northbound lanes on US 158, in addition to one northbound lane on NC 12, are all converging into one lane heading into Southern Shores. Then there are the slower speed limits and high number of crosswalks down the road, especially when entering the town of Duck. All of these factors combined cause the traffic to bottleneck.
On Saturday, August 16, Kitty Hawk Police Department tried a new tactic for preventing a blocked intersection. Several police vehicles with flashing lights were parked at the intersection. Strickland said the intent was not to ticket drivers, but rather to be visible and encourage drivers not to block the intersection. He does believe that there was more compliance, but the intersection was still blocked on more than one occasion.
But posting officers there weighs on the police. With a limited force on duty on the weekends, it is not ideal to have them posted at the intersection in case they need to respond quickly to a problem elsewhere. Blocking the intersection not only inconveniences drivers, it is a serious safety hazard for emergency vehicles. First responders are normally not able to pass through at all on a turnover day.
Luckily, there have not been many mishaps in the intersection itself.
“Honestly we haven’t had many accidents,” says Strickland. “I think because the speed is so slow. People are keenly aware of where other people are because the traffic is stopped.” He says he has seen people screaming at each other.
Despite this, one thing is clear: a solution is needed.
In the past there was a proposal for a flyover—an overpass that crosses over an interchange or intersection. This suggestion was not very popular at the time. The flyover would alleviate congestion on the intersection, however, it would not do much to reduce general traffic and wait times.
Another potential solution is a greater number of options for check in days with realty companies. As things stand, most realty companies have check in days of Saturday and Sunday, and very occasionally on Friday. This would be especially difficult to put in place, as it seems the majority of realty companies would have to be on board with it. Another issue is that many visitors appreciate the Saturday or Sunday check in because they need to request vacation time off from work.
Several years ago, there was talk of a mid-Currituck bridge, which would have connected US 158 in Currituck to NC 12 in Corolla. The proposed project seemed like the perfect solution to many visitors and locals, but never materialized.
Kitty Hawk Town Manager John Stockton says, “There are possibilities. It’s just a matter of the state getting funding and doing the project. We are going to do what we can from our perspective in terms of improving the situation.”
As far as short term solutions go, everything from posting signs to installing traffic cameras and issuing tickets has been suggested. Strickland does not believe ticketing is the answer, mostly because it is difficult to educate a group of people when they are only passing through the intersection under these conditions once when they first get into town. There is a different group of people at the intersection every weekend throughout the entire summer.
“People that are coming through there—it’s a one time thing,” says Stockton. “They’re not going to be coming through there again when it’s so congested. Giving a ticket will probably alienate the people. If you have an officer out there with his lights on, people see the police vehicle and perhaps they may think twice about blocking the intersection.”
Another concern with ticketing is that by pulling someone over, the intersection would become even more congested.
Stockton says, “Hopefully between now and next summer we can have some dialogue with people in the area and see what we can come up with.”
Stockton hopes that the North Carolina Department of Transportation will work toward solving the problem, as US 158 is a state maintained road. However, all parties would appreciate input from Outer Banks residents and visitors.
“We would love to do something,” says Strickland. “We would love to hear any ideas that folks have got.”♦