CEDAR POINT — Nearly 100 people showed up Tuesday for the kickoff of the Carteret County transportation plan development process in conjunction with the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT).
The drop-in session was held in the Western Park Community Center and attracted many elected officials and town staffers, especially from fast-growing western Carteret County, where roads are becoming increasingly clogged, even outside of tourism season.
Saman Jeffers, an NCDOT transportation engineer and planner, stressed that the meeting was the first step in development of a new transportation plan. The last one was adopted in 2014.
The goal of the meeting, Jeffers said, was to introduce residents to the process and to get comments about priorities. Although there was no formal presentation by NCDOT, and the meeting was not set up for attendees to give presentations, some of those who attended took the opportunity to comment in one-on-one to talks to NCDOT and Carteret County representatives, including Gene Foxworth, who heads the county’s planning department.
Jeffers also encouraged those at the session to sign up to receive emails from NCDOT, which eventually will include digital maps on which those interested can make comments about specific transportation problems and opportunities, such as traffic concerns, pedestrian issues and lack of bike paths.
In addition, Jeffers said there will be at least one and maybe two more public meetings in the area as NCDOT and the county develop the plan. The whole process, she said, will take at least nine months, probably longer.
At this point, Jeffers said, NCDOT hasn’t even started the data analysis phase of the project. Ultimately, the effort is to identify and pose solutions to traffic problems over the next 25 to 30 years.
Foxworth also stressed the meeting was “the very start” of a long process but added that county and NCDOT officials want to hear comments from residents. Folks who want to provide input to the planning department can call 252-728-8545.
“Talk to county and DOT staff and let us know what you want to see in Carteret County,” he said.
Jeffers also urged residents to participate. Commenting on maps and making suggestions is the way to get specific projects into the plan so they can eventually be funded.
Before the beginning of the meeting, some leaders in western Carteret County talked to the newspaper about their concerns.
Cedar Point mayor and lifetime area resident Scott Hatsell said he’s very concerned about traffic along Highway 24 from Swansboro in Onslow County through his town and to Bogue, which is between Cape Carteret and Morehead City.
“It’s bad,” the mayor said of the congestion in his town. “We do the best we can, but it's increasing all the time.” He said he hopes the county and NCDOT can come up with some solutions, though he knows they’ll be a long time coming.
Cedar Point has one full-time police officer, a sheriff’s deputy who is under contract to the town. He patrols the highway, augmented by the state Highway Patrol, as well as the side streets in neighborhoods.
Currently, NCDOT is lengthening the right-turn lane off Highway 24 onto Highway 58 to try to alleviate some of the backup of traffic on Highway 24 in Cedar Point, especially during tourism season. Residents also complain that motorists turning left off Highway 24 to go to Emerald Isle often block the intersection, causing tie-ups in Cape Carteret.
Cedar Point Commissioner John Nash said he was glad “DOT has started its outreach to local citizens and government officials. I hope it (the meeting) jumpstarts a renewed planning effort to address western Carteret transportation needs.”
Cape Carteret Mayor Will Baker, whose town begins at the intersection of highways 24 and 58 – the latter the road that leads across Bogue Sound to bustling Emerald Isle on the western end of Bogue Banks – said he’d like NCDOT officials to get together with all of the mayors and “listen to our concerns.”
The biggest problem, he said, is that as tourism and full-time residences have increased in Emerald Isle and in western Carteret mainland towns, four-lane Highway 24 now funnels far more people to the two-laned Emerald Isle high-rise bridge than it did even in the relatively recent past.
He pointed out that a contractor for NCDOT has been involved in a maintenance project – with alternating lane closures – on the bridge for several years, further increasing traffic jams, particularly in Cape Carteret and Cedar Point, which also abuts the intersection of the two highways.
Emerald Isle officials for many years have opposed widening the bridge.
Mayor Baker said he knows there are no easy or fast solutions. He said he remembers NCDOT floated a plan a few years ago to turn the intersection of highways 58 and 24 into some sort of “cloverleaf” like you see on interstate highways, but that would have destroyed many businesses.
“We need another bridge (from the mainland to somewhere in the middle of Bogue Banks),” he said. “If they had been working on that for three years, we’d have it.”
Kevin Hunter, chief of the Western Carteret Fire and EMS Department, which serves the western Carteret towns and unincorporated areas around them, said it’s hard to suggest a solution but noted that the speed limit on Highway 24 is now 35 mph from the western end of Swansboro all the way to Bogue.
That has probably lessened the impact of some the wrecks but also increased motorists’ frustration levels.
“A lot of them are pushing it to the max of what they think they can get away with,” he said. “If the sign says the limit is 35, they’re going to go 44 or more.
Highway 24 now carries an estimated 28,000 to 30,000 vehicles per day, the chief said, and it can be tough for fire trucks and ambulances to get to wrecks and fires.
“We can get through with our lights and sirens, but sometimes it’s not too easy,” he said. “We fortunately don’t have a lot of wrecks on 24, but usually when we do, they’re doozies” that tie up traffic for a long time.
The development of the comprehensive traffic plan for Carteret County is a joint effort with Carteret County, Carteret County municipalities, NCDOT and the Down East Rural Planning Organization. It involves government officials and the public to determine the area's future transportation needs based on the best information available, including, but not limited to, population, economic conditions, traffic trends and patterns of land development in the county.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.
Third bridge good partial solution.
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