County’s tourism needs
access solutions now
If visitation numbers to the Crystal Coast this past Memorial Day weekend are indicative of what to expect for the remainder of the year and years ahead, Carteret County and the local municipalities need to be concerned about providing services for both visitors and local residents.
Today’s front page story by reporter Brad Rich foreshadows what is becoming a major issue for the area - parking and access. With the anticipated completion of I-42 in the next ten years which will enhance access to the area, there is little time to begin planning and construction for the growth that will surely result.
As Mr. Rich’s story notes, beachgoers in Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach and Pine Knoll Shores, as well as visitors to historic downtown Beaufort, are paying parking fees now that the summer tourist season is in full swing. What is not told in this story, and one that cannot be quantitatively determined, is how many visitors were denied access due to many of the parking facilities being filled to capacity. As the visitors become more comfortable with the easing of COVID-19 quarantines we can be confident our visitation numbers will increase, resulting in demand for access exceeding available spaces.
It is interesting to note that these tourist towns, while concerned about being visitor friendly, are now resorting to paid parking, arguably not all that friendly, in order to control demand for access to both shopping and beach access. Ironically, Beaufort, Morehead City and Atlantic Beach, years ago, removed paid parking meters in an effort to staunch the exodus of businesses as they moved to shopping malls where a compelling sales point, for both businesses and shoppers, was ample free parking. Just the opposite is now in vogue here in the tourist-centric beach towns and Beaufort.
What is important to note is that our county is a destination. Visitors travel here for the specific purpose of enjoying our numerous amenities, including the historic sites as well as the water access. And this demand, coupled with limited space, is now requiring paid parking.
But parking for cars is only the most obvious problem for these communities. The Beaufort-Morehead City causeway is now becoming the overflow parking lot for cars and trailers unable to find room in the Morehead City boat ramp at the base of the Newport River Bridge.
The fact that this highway right of way is now being used as overflow parking does raise concern as to the propriety of using this area, but that is an issue the town and state will need to address- and soon.
Based on the popularity of boating and the varied boating opportunities with both estuarine, inland and ocean access, arguably the best in the state, we’re now seeing major traffic congestion at boat docks and ramps. Morehead City’s public ramps are at, if not beyond, capacity.
Adding to the obvious need to provide access to the county’s public facilities for our visitors is also the need for the county’s residents who use the beach access points and who also provide support for local businesses. Emerald Isle ignored a request from year-round county residents seeking lower fees who contended that they also support these facilities with both their countywide and local sales taxes and so should be given the opportunity to gain parking access at a lower cost than tourists.
Beaufort, with its growing parking demands, now requires paid parking along the waterfront and throughout the town, restricting certain streets to residents only. And because Beaufort’s parking demands are exceeding available spaces, many of the employees of the downtown businesses are left to vie for the few free spaces as are several downtown churches.
As noted in this and other editorials, our county will soon be the terminus of a new major interstate, I-42. Once that highway is completed we can expect a flood of visitors all expecting to enjoy our natural resources. There is an immediate need to address parking and access to the county’s varied amenities, with the possible construction of parking decks, and improved public transportation services as our tourism and population numbers continue to grow.
Any delay in planning and action will increase inconvenience for tourists and year-round residents that will negatively impact our future tourism economy and reputation.