Carteret County is facing challenging decisions as it deals with continued population growth and aging infrastructure, particularly its highways and bridges. Unfortunately there seems to be a lack of willingness to work with the state when it comes to highway investment.
Two stories in Wednesday’s News-Times, one involving the expansion of N.C. 24 in Cape Carteret and the other regarding an effort to stop the construction of a new Harker’s Island bridge show that the county and its municipalities will have to make difficult and unpopular decisions or else jeopardize highway funding in the future.
In the case of NC 24, Cape Carteret is resisting a proposal from the state Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to create a superstreet which involves replacing the center turning lane in the town and building a highway median and selected cross-over lanes. The DOT officials noted that a recent Highway-24 corridor study shows that development of a superstreet, as the design is called, will be safer and more effective in maintaining traffic flow
Town officials and residents, meeting with department representatives Monday evening, expressed strong opposition to the proposal despite the possible benefits resulting from the plan They contend that the superstreet design would harm the businesses along the corridor. As a result of the opposition to the superstreet concept DOT representative B.J. Eversole stated that the department will not pursue the development of the plan.
The business impact of the proposal is an appropriate concern, but unless a master plan is approved that accommodates increased traffic in that western Carteret town, a town that is experiencing rapid growth, the very businesses the commissioners are seeking to protect will be harmed by increased dangers for customers seeking to enter and exit the businesses. Just saying no is not the answer. There needs to be an imaginative and immediate proposal so that existing businesses and property owners can begin to plan as the region expands. Growth in Cape Carteret is happening fast and the planning has to keep pace. And since the town isn’t happy with the NCDOT proposal, then the town should work on an alternative.
Just days after the NCDOT faced opposition to highway improvements in the western portion of the county, property owners in Harkers Island sought a temporary restraining order to stop construction of the Harkers Island Bridge crossing The Straits to the mainland. Property owners Hollis and Carol Batson and Lawrence and Elizabeth Baldwin contend that the new bridge will affect their riparian rights to the water as well as harm a nearby creek.
The legal efforts on the part of the property owners could, at the very least delay, if not totally scuttle, a very needed road project- one that has been in the planning stages for over six years. Recent hurricanes and winter storms have damaged the bridge, requiring expensive emergency action on the part of the DOT for the safety of residents and visitors in Harkers Island. There is no time to waste in getting a new bridge built but now, after numerous meetings and construction has begun, these property owners are dissatisfied and attempting to stop the work. We have to ask why take legal action now and not during the planning phase?
These two cases, coincidentally at almost opposite ends of the county, raise the question on planning and implementation. The county and municipalities need to be proactive and willing to make hard decisions and then stand by those decisions so that highway construction can be completed in a timely fashion.
Funding of the state’s transportation system is under significant stress due to repairs needed from two years of damaging storms. Carteret County is fortunate to have funding for roadway and bridge improvements but if the county’s reputation for last minute disputes continues, those funds may disappear as other counties and regions of the state respond more agreeably to state highway investment.
If the county and municipalities are not more proactive in working with the NCDOT we may find ourselves not only at the end of the road but also at the end of the financial line.