Noting the rising number of conflicts between vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists, the town of Nags Head has requested that the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) consider the installation of traffic and pedestrian signals at two key locations along U.S. 158 in an effort to improve safety.
During its July 3 meeting, the Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to ask the department to analyze the merits of a full traffic signal at Soundside Road and U.S. 158, as well as install a pedestrian signal and crosswalk to the existing signalized intersection at Epstein Drive and U.S. 158.
The move follows on the heels of a similar request late last month when the board called for the department to take swift action to improve safety at the Little Bridge pedestrian crossing. The board later clarified the request by asking for a full traffic signal or pedestrian-activated signal along with a reduction in the existing speed limit.
NCDOT Division One Engineer Jerry Jennings acknowledged the increasing number of concerns that have accompanied an increase in pedestrians and vehicles along the Outer Banks.
“We are seeing more vehicles and more pedestrians,” said Jennings. “A combination of both has led to concerns. With signage and pave markings, we try to do everything we can to mitigate those concerns, but some areas are bigger issues than others.”
Jennings said that, while his office hasn’t formally received the requests from Nags Head, the department planned to conduct a full analysis of those two troubled intersections, including traffic counts in the coming months. Jennings said he expects NCDOT to report back to Nags Head officials within 30 to 60 days with the department’s findings and recommendations.
Nags Head Church Pastor Rick Lawrenson noted the concerns about the Soundside Road intersection in a June 21 letter he sent to the commissioners. The church sits on the south side of the intersection, which is used by residents, church members and visitors to Jockey’s Ridge soundside access.
“It is a busy intersection, and only getting busier,” Lawrenson asserted. “As with the little bridge, we would rather be proactive than to wait until there is a fatality at this intersection.”
As for the Epstein intersection, Village Realty made a request earlier this year for a pedestrian signal and crosswalk to be added to the existing signal. According to Town Manager Cliff Ogburn, NCDOT agreed to install the signal and crosswalk if Nags Head provided an accessible curb ramp and landing area on each side of the crosswalk where pedestrians can access the push button.
In its July 3 request, the board agreed to make those improvements at the intersection, which Ogburn said would cost $4,500. The board also agreed to enhance the pedestrian crossing at Mall Drive and U.S. 158 with better accessibility to the existing pedestrian signal on the west side of the intersection.
While the board also considered formally requesting a pedestrian signal at Grouse Street and U.S. 158 at the Soundside Event Site, members decided to table the request until the Outer Banks Tourism Bureau unveils its future plans for the site. Consultants hired by the bureau to conduct an economic impact and feasibility study are expected to make a report to the Dare County Tourism Board at its July 18 meeting, according to the bureau’s executive director, Lee Nettles.
During events at the site, the Nags Head Police Department has operated a manual crosswalk at the intersection, utilizing temporary lighting in the evening hours. But Ogburn said that for years the town has made the request for a pedestrian signal at that location. “It would help with crowd control and public safety, and would not have to work continuously,” Ogburn said of the requested enhancements.
Signaling the extent of the increasing pedestrian/vehicle conflicts, commissioners noted that these requests wouldn’t be the only ones needed to address the issue. In its letter requesting the Epstein pedestrian signal, commissioners also stated that the town was planning to install additional multi-use paths along U.S 158 south of Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the coming year.
“We will need to coordinate with your staff on these improvements and will likely have other similar requests to install pedestrian signals at existing signalized intersections where they do not currently exist,” the letter read.