EMERALD ISLE — One month after former Mayor Ronnie Watson warned of impending serious accidents because of speeding on Coast Guard Road and Reed Drive, town commissioners voted 4-0 Tuesday night to lower the speed limits on sections of both streets.

The board also voted unanimously to improve pedestrian crosswalks in the areas.

The actions came during the commission’s monthly session in their meeting room beside the police station on Highway 58 and followed a report by Police Chief Tony Reese, who in the past month has conducted speeding and wreck studies on both streets.

Commissioner Mark Taylor was absent and excused by a board vote.

The speed limit on Coast Guard Road will decrease from 35 to 25 mph in the highly congested area between Highway 58 and a point just south of Deer Horn Drive, while the speed limit on Reed Drive will decrease from 25 to 20 mph between Coast Guard Road and Islander Drive.

“Thank you,” said Mr. Watson, who owns and operates the Holiday Trav-L Park resort at the intersection of Coast Guard Road and Reed Drive. “What scares me is the high volume of kids on bikes, people jogging in that area. Probably not everyone speeds, but it scares me. The last thing we need is a fatality, some kid getting run over and killed.”

Chief Reese said Thursday he is “already coordinating with our public works director to get the necessary signage to implement the changes.”

 As for enforcement, he said, “My directive to my officers will be to stop and educate those found in violation on the changes. As I said in my presentation, the majority of vehicles we evaluated in our study were already traveling at speeds that would be in compliance with these new speed limits.

“For those that are not, we will obviously evaluate those on a case-by-case basis, with the understanding being public education and gaining voluntary compliance is the goal,” he concluded.

However, he added that he didn’t know how long the education process would last, and he’s “not going to take discretion away from any officer who feels that writing a citation is the appropriate remedy to address flagrant or grossly negligent violations.”

He also said there will be “public safety announcements in the newspaper, newsletters and digital media platforms.”

The crosswalk improvements will come later.

In his presentation Tuesday, Chief Reese said his investigation revealed the average speed of motorists in the Coast Guard Road study area was 19.28 mph over a three-day period, well below the speed limit. But he added that’s misleading to a degree, because many motorists do slow down temporarily because of numerous egresses and ingresses from businesses in the area.

That makes the average artificially low, when in truth there are plenty of speeders.

The chief also found that while the number of wrecks on all of Coast Guard Road have declined in the past five years compared to the previous five, the number of wrecks in the specific study area has increased by 110%.

He also noted there is a blind curve in the study area and the road narrows from six lanes, divided by an island, at the intersection with Highway 58, to just two lanes 320 feet to the southwest. Both contribute to dangerous conditions.

Similarly, Chief Reese said, the average speed in the Reed Drive study area was 16.2 mph, below the 25 mph limit. But again, he said, wrecks are a concern. While there’s been a 22% increase in wrecks on all of Reed Drive in the past five years, the increase has been 300% in the study area between Coast Guard Road and Islander Drive.

With all the children in the area, especially in the summer months, and with all of the ingresses and egresses from businesses, lowering the speed limit could lower motorists’ stopping distances.

“We won’t get all of them (to slow down),” he said of drivers, “but many will.”

Interim Town Manager Randy Martin commended Chief Reese on his fast and thorough study and noted all of the data compiled was from April, prior to tourism season. During the study, the number of vehicles in the Coast Guard Road study area averaged 4,557 per day over a three-day period, while the number in the Reed Drive study area was an average of 1,998 per day over a five-day period.

“I would imagine that would double or more in the summer,” Mr. Martin said.

Commissioner Floyd Messer asked if speeding was the major factor in problems in the two study areas.

“The data says ‘no,’” Chief Reese said, but the raw average numbers could be misleading.

“If people don’t pay attention to 35 (mph), will they pay attention to 25?” Mr. Messer asked.

“I think they will slow down some,” Chief Reese responded. “But my real concern is about stopping distances. I think speed reduction will help.”

The chief offered a couple other options in conjunction with the speed limit and pedestrian crossing improvements: a four-way stop sign at Coast Guard Road and Deer Horn Drive and speed bumps on Reed Drive.

The four-way stop sign, while slowing traffic, “has the potential to have an undesirable effect on the flow of traffic in the target area, particularly during peak season when traffic volumes are higher along Coast Guard Road,” the chief cautioned in his report.

Speed bumps, he said, “would require the approval of the town fire code enforcement official,” in this case Fire Chief Bill Walker.

“I have spoken with Chief Walker and he would prefer other measures be attempted prior to consideration of this option,” largely because of potential damage to fire trucks and the potential to increase emergency response times.

In the end, the board rejected the four-way stop sign and the speed bumps.

As for the pedestrian crosswalks – two on Reed Drive and one on Coast Guard Road at its intersection with Reed Drive – Chief Reese recommends they all be better marked and more visible to motorists.

He suggested flashing lights to warn motorists of the Coast Guard Road crossing, since it crosses so many lanes of traffic, and said the crossing needs to be made compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Currently, the section of the crosswalk in the traffic island there is not flush with the street.

Commissioners agreed to improve markings at all of the crosswalks, but Tuesday night balked at adding flashing lights to the one on Coast Guard Road due to the cost.

Chief Reese said he was able to negotiate a deal with the N.C. Department of Transportation to purchase the lights and get them installed for about $23,000. If the board doesn’t approve those lights soon, he added, the price will increase to $36,000.

At any rate, he said, the town could use normal, non-flashing crosswalk signage at this location.

But, he added “It is my opinion that while this is a less expensive option, it will also be less visible and less impactful.”

Wednesday night, according to Mr. Martin, town commissioners during a budget work session tentatively agreed to a plan to install flashing lights, with about half of the money coming from funds raised from the recent Emerald Isle Marathon.

The town’s bicycle and pedestrian committee brought in $22,000 in marathon proceeds, and $11,000 might go toward the flashing lights as a bike safety improvement. The other money would come from the town’s general fund. The plan might not be finalized until the commission approves the budget Tuesday, June 11, however.

At any rate, Chief Reese said Thursday, “Since we’ll be outsourcing the installation of the (flashing lights) … at the Reed Drive/Coast Guard Road location and will be on the contractor’s timetable, I can’t give … an estimate as to when that will take place.

“The changes that will have to be made to the pedestrian island on Coast Guard Road to bring it up to ADA compliance standards will be completed by our public works department, but will most likely take place in the fall when traffic has subsided and we can do the work safely and without causing major disruptions in traffic flow,” he added. “I would also anticipate that the restriping of the crosswalks for both locations will take place in the fall for the same reasons.”

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

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