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.

(10) comments

drewski

Rural folks who don't travel have no idea what an expensive nightmare parking is. In NYC 30 dollars for the first 2 hrs, and 15/ hr after that is the norm. Rent an apt in Fairfax va, and expect an additional 300 per month per parking spot. Also expect gypsy tow companies will be hauling your car away on a reg basis, and you have no immediate recourse but to pony up 300 in cash if you want your car. The recent approval of yet another rv park of 150+ acres just up 58 from the bridge will certainly add to the parking drama.

Several solutions come to mind for the coming onslaught of tourists and their cars.

Highrise parking lots, rotary parking lots, and of course remote parking and a paid shuttle service.

Tourism is the goose that lays the Golden eggs in county coffers, few things will kill that bird quicker then endlessly circling overflowing parking lots in the aug heat to bring your family to the beach.

DeadBolt

Never seen this coming, to a place with about 15 miles of car accessible actual beach! (and 4 parking lots, hahahahahahahahahaha)

mpjeep

The lack of parking is an understatement. I live pretty close to the ”Circle” on Atlantic Beach and for 4 days almost non-stop, people circled this area continuously looking for a parking space.

My driveway has room for 3 extra cars and I thought about renting out parking space to pay for my wife’s Dr. Pepper habit.

noitall

In EI Last July Fourth during the early evening there was zero parking off 58. Zero If you left 58 to shop,dine,beach you were soon trapped in a never-ending traffic jamb with no way out. GRID LOCK LIKE NO OTHER. Critical mass had been achieved. In one sense this problem is self correcting. Vacationers will not v visit EL to park in gridlock. Re-purpose ocean front to metered public parking. Make the second row beach front. It is all about planning and codes. Things that can be changed with only a stroke of the pen.

mpjeep

My son lives in downtown Chicago where it was costing him $450 a month to park. So, he sold his car, dropped his car insurance, and took the L railway, bus, or Uber and still saved money.

Since I live in AB, I’m not that interested in more parking for visitors, but if I were, then the most economical way to build parking is Up…”Decks” or what they call it in Wisconsin “Ramps”.

beachmami13

It'll be the county residents asked to help contribute to build more & more parking for EI and then they'll have to pay the parking fee while EI residents get 2 free passes. I love going to the beach & moved here b/c of the water access, which has become harder and harder to justify b/c it's such a PITA to drive over there and sit in traffic, struggle to find a spot to park and then pay if we even find one. All of these growing pains have been addressed over & over again, with the county turning a blind eye to them.

Benelli

Simple economics says no more land will be allocated to parking on the beach. It’s just too valuable. Meter prices will increase to match the more expensive locales visitors are coming from and will price people out of parking. Other than the bridge, the beach and Morehead are totally flat. It would be more economical to build a decent bike lane everywhere, and encourage everyone to bike to the beach. St Augustine Fla is like this, crowded and impossible to find a parking space, but you can ride your bike everywhere. Here, riding a bike is dodging type A drivers

the secret life of man

In 1986 I suggested a protected bike path across AB bridge to the city council members.They claimed NC road dept said it was dangerous and expensive.Think how much it would cost in today's dollars.The operative was protected bike path.We the citizens are still ignored 35 years later by the powers that be.

beachmami13

[thumbup]

Sleepwalker

Like the airport in Raleigh.... have park and rides all over the county...hahaha getcha a couple acres back in the county... pave it over, install a gate... have a shuttle running back and forth. How bout that. The county commish’s can rezone some land for ya....ahem... I mean for theirselves.

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