Weekend Woes for Travelers to the OBX

 In OBX Community, Safety

Outer Banks Weekend Traffic

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.

Do Not Block Intersection

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.

Outer Banks Traffic Intersection

“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.”♦

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Showing 10 comments
  • Tom

    As a long time visitor, I am unsure as to why the combination approach is not used. Everyone seems to be looking for one answer. All of the suggestions have validity and I would encourage a multi pronged approach. 1. Alteration of the 158/12 interchange. 2. Mid currituck bridge. 3. Multiday rental processing. Lets face it, there are more and more people coming to obx every year (dang). This will only get worse until we get to critical mass. Locals I feel for you. Change is hard, but unless something gets done, youre weekend situation is going to end up like nj shore….and thats one of the reasons I choose to drive 7 hours from pa instead of 2 every summer to go to the obx.

  • Sam

    Best solution was riding my bike to work, when I still lived in southern shores. KDH too far have to drive now…… Tourists need to stay off the back roads, they need to stop clogging up 11th and sea oats, they need to stop throwing their trash out the window…. BUILD THE BRIDGE…

  • Rhonda Meads

    The bridge is the perfect solution!! My family owns 2 places in Carova and I work in Carova during the summer. I know that my family, friends, and I would pay a toll just to have a quicker ride without the crazy traffic!!

  • A Local

    Visitors don’t get an opinion. Using different check in days only places the issues on that day thus not solving anything. There’s a solution out there but so far the ideas I have read will do nothing. The best idea…bridge from Currituck to corolla. That would at least alleviate traffic from kdh to corolla but there’s still going to be people who drive in the other way and cause traffic. It’s just the way things are.

  • Sue Montgomery

    My family has been traveling to OBX for many years now. We’ve gotten caught in the bridge traffic a couple times and it is brutal. We always stay down on Hatteras Island and we know once we are across the bridge and make that right turn we are “home free”. We’ve done the Sunday to Sunday rental a couple times and traveling on Sunday is such a breeze. I wish more rental companies offered the Sunday to Sunday. From our experience, only about 20% of the rentals are Sunday to Sunday. If the rental companies would offer 50% Saturday to Saturday check in and 50% Sunday to Sunday check in, I do believe it would help the traffic solution and spread out some of the traffic issues.

  • Maryland visitor

    As a frequent, often annual, Maryland visitor to the Outer Banks, I find the lack of any real effort by NC DOT to address the traffic congestion in the area to be absolutely baffling. The Currituck Bridge is absolutely the logical solution to this issue but it seems that NC DOT has killed the project. Just wonderful. Pray tell, what if there were ever a real, genuine emergency requiring rapid evacuation of the Outer Banks? There would be absolute chaos on the roads and many lives would be lost due to the shortsightedness of the politicians that make these decisions. Do the NC politicians recognize the millions of dollars that tourists bring to their State via the OBX? Do they not realize that sooner or later, people will get fed up with dealing with traffic misery to enter and exit these islands and, in turn take their monies elsewhere?

    Hands down though, an easier partial solution, the rental companies must start offering staggered check in and check out schedules. There are many of us who work rotating schedules whose weekends may fall on a Wed and Thurs, or somewhere else in the week, and could greatly benefit from a different start and end day than the typical one.

  • Lucy Power

    I am a 26 year resident of Southern Shores. 10 years Oceanside on Hickory & the rest on N Dogwood. The weekend traffic as we all know is absolutely horrendous & dangerous & disabling for those of us who live on Dogwood, Sea Oats, Hickory, Wax Myrtle, Hillcrest, Beech, Bayberry, Holly, Fairway. Now there’s discussion of major tree removal , widening our residential streets, and the worst is the replacement of Talk Pine Bridge next SUMMER!! The placement of police at intersections is great, the blocking at KHES & 158 & 12 has been absurd! A mid county bridge is what the northern beaches need, I can’t understand why this cannot be contracted out w/ a toll which seemingly would pay for itself pretty quickly. I would gladly pay 20$ or more to arrive in Corolla 3 hours faster & locals would be issued a pass of sorts w/ a much lower rate. Widen 12 N, this must be done or SS is going to loose a lot of residents. It’s becoming a not so desirable place to live because of the thru traffic! The town needs to address the desires of it’s land owning tax paying full time Dare Cty residents & stop giving our home away to visitors. Leave our shaded streets be, we like our trails , and our yards & our leisure to walk, run, bike w/ out fear of being run down. Route 12 N has got to be the focus for our traffic issues & possibly crossovers on 12 for pedestrians. If we are a top vacation spot, then it’s time to grow up, answer the call, solve the problems in an honest, respectful way for all of us that are HOME on the Outer Banks.

  • mark Jennings

    The idea to have different check-in times and days for rentals is the best!

  • Jessica

    I don’t have any ideas, but I will say that this needs to be resolved. We live by the Currituck courthouse, which is almost an hour from the Wright Memorial Bridge. It’s a sad thing that Currituck locals can’t even go out, or get back home, on the weekends without sitting in traffic for hours! Of course the response is always “the tourists being the money” but what about those of us that have lived here for our entire lives & EVERY SINGLE YEAR the traffic is worse & we’re left with no option of having a weekend life because the OBX is NON STOP advertising the beaches & attractions. Don’t mind is, locals don’t need to be able to leave home on the weekends, as long as the TOURISTS are happy that’s all that matters, right?

  • Mark

    Build the bridge! and replace the Bonner bridge while your at it.

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