CAPE CARTERET — Commissioners voted 5-0 Monday night to have Town Manager Zach Steffey write the N.C. Department of Transportation a letter expressing serious concerns about at least one of the options included in a long-range feasibility study for the redesign of the Highway 24/Highway 58 intersection.
Meeting in town hall for their monthly session, commissioners also asked Mr. Steffey to invite NCDOT representatives to come to town to discuss the study.
The issue arose after Mr. Steffey and other local officials last Thursday attended a meeting of the steering committee of the N.C. 24 Corridor Study in Swansboro.
NCDOT hired Kimley-Horn, a Raleigh-based planning and design consulting engineering firm, to work on the study, which aims to improve traffic flow and safety all the way from Highway 24’s intersection with Highway 172 in Hubert to its intersection with Highway 70 in Morehead City.
Cape Carteret Mayor Dave Fowler, during his comments to the board and the public Monday night, said one of the designs Mr. Steffey told him he learned about at the meeting would turn the intersection of highways 24 and 58 into a “cloverleaf,” potentially knocking out a number of businesses in town, such as McDonald’s and Subway on the south side, plus possibly affecting the town police station and town hall on the same side.
On the other side of the highway, the mayor said, it appears the concept could affect Hardee’s, Walgreens and part of the Carteret Crossing shopping center. He said it appears likely to affect Bojangles, BB&T and Go-Gas, among other businesses, in Cedar Point, as well.
Mayor Fowler said the intent appears to be to get motorists to Emerald Isle more efficiently, without regard for Cape Carteret or Cedar Point and their tax bases.
Mr. Steffey agreed.
“I don’t see a whole lot of potential (benefit) for us,” he said after the mayor spoke. “It’s something we should all be concerned about.”
Others agreed with that assessment, especially since the traffic to Emerald Isle in the summer, especially on weekends, backs up on Highway 24 in Cedar Point.
The manager said he knows the idea is just a concept and that any changes are far down the road. Presently, NCDOT is in the design stage for other changes at the intersection, including additions of right-turn lanes in all directions. There’s already been a public meeting on that plan in Cape Carteret.
“It’s just in the ‘feasibility’ stage,” and is “pretty far out,” if it happens, Mr. Steffey said of the cloverleaf idea. Still, he said there is reason for concern.
Mayor Fowler said he wasn’t sure a big change would help the traffic situation anyway since motorists, even if they got to Emerald Isle more easily, would run into the bottleneck at the high-rise bridge.
“The bridge to Emerald Isle can’t handle the traffic now,” he said.
Commissioner Steve Martin said the only real solution is a third bridge to Bogue Banks, in the middle of the island.
Mayor Fowler said, the cloverleaf concept would likely affect already-constructed sections of the Cape Carteret Trail along highways 24 and 58, as well.
That would be a shame, he said, because the town has already received grant money and donations to build the trail, which is intended not just for recreation, but as an alternative means of transportation for town residents and visitors.
The whole plan, including the possibility of tearing the trail up to make room for more traffic to get to a bottleneck faster “isn’t based in common sense,” he said.
Commissioner Mike King said the report by Mr. Steffey from the meeting last week “was a shock” in light of the existing plan for new right-turn lanes.
Mr. Steffey said NCDOT wanted town input within two weeks and suggested he draft a letter.
That’s when Commissioner Charlie Evans suggested the town also invite NCDOT officials to come to Cape Carteret to make a presentation.
Eventually, board members said, they’d like to see a project economic impact study on Cape Carteret, which already struggles to provide services to taxpayers because of the lack of business development and business tax revenue in town. They said it would be best if the study is done before too much time passes, the plan gains momentum and a specific project gets included in the State Transportation Improvement Program for funding.
Losing businesses, Mayor Fowler said, would be a major blow to the town and would force residential property owners to “take up the slack.”
“This doesn’t look like a good thing for the town,” he said. “You don’t have people coming to a town because it has a pretty ‘cloverleaf.’”
Cedar Point Town Administrator Chris Seaberg said in an interview Tuesday he attended the Highway 24 steering committee meeting, saw the same feasibility study designs and is “concerned,” but “I’m not going to let it raise my blood pressure” yet.
Mr. Seaberg, who is set to become the town manager of Swansboro – also a part of the study – said he doesn’t plan to bring the issue up to his board of commissioners in Cedar Point before he leaves for the Swansboro job, but said he talked about the issue with Mayor Scott Hatsell, who also attended the meeting in Swansboro.
He said he’d brief incoming town administrator David Rief – a former planning director for Cape Carteret – before he starts work in Cedar Point Tuesday, Oct. 1.
“This is very early,” Mr. Seaberg said Tuesday. “I don’t want to alarm anyone. It’s only on paper. As it is on paper, it appears it could have a big impact.”
He said he believes at some point in the near future, under the guidance of Mr. Rief, the town will make an “appropriate response.”
This, he said, is the time to do that in a measured way. As the process continues and if and when proposals from NCDOT and Kimley-Horn become more firm and designs more specific, and if the initial “appropriate response” doesn’t generate an appropriate response from the state, “that’s the time to raise a stink,” he concluded.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.