My thoughts

by Pat Bradford
Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The power outage on Tuesday was unexpected to say the least. 

If you got caught in the traffic when the power went out, you know it was hold-your-breath scary to go through major corridor intersections without the traffic lights functioning. Thankfully, after a pregnant pause, police officers arrived to direct traffic at some of the key intersections.  

A Duke Energy Progress outage affected residents of New Hanover County just before 11 a.m. on Tuesday, after a problem occurred with transmission lines that supply power to the eastern part of the state. Locally as many as 34,000 customers lost electricity including power to traffic lights across New Hanover County, from Wrightsville Beach to Monkey Junction, Gordon Road, Market Street and Porters Neck.

As homes were darkened, office work and business ground to a halt in the affected areas, while crews routed power around the system to restore electricity temporarily, after about 45 minutes with no power and plenty of stress, including backed up roadways.

Driving from one end of the county to the other during this time and then out to the beach was a challenge. Especially not knowing what was going on, until a cell phone call brought word. Crossing an intersection was pretty intimidating. Not that the roadways were a free-for-all, but certainly the more aggressive drivers ruled the road. 

Stuck in bumper-to-bumper congestion traveling east toward the beach was reminiscent of the July 4 holiday weekend traffic. Especially on Saturday, which saw the most people, and after a traffic accident on the causeway stalled beach-bound traffic all the way to Military Cutoff Road.

There was once a facetious suggestion that beach town officials use signage to let beach-bound motorists know what to expect ahead, for example: “Wrightsville parking lots full” and “10 on-street vehicle parking spaces available.” And it is an idea’s time that may have come. 

Providing information to those stuck in traffic is helpful. During Saturday’s big backup, a kind person wearing a security vest stationed near Seapath was telling motorists what had happened ahead. Many drivers chose to make a U-turn or detoured across the municipal complex rather than inch forward toward the beach strand. 

When the Interstate is routinely snarled near Raleigh, or other major cities, electronic signage informs the inbound motorists what to expect in advance.

The DOT could install electronic signage on the mainland side of the drawbridge, perhaps at the two Military Cutoff gateways to the beach, to inform motorists of the availability of parking or where the traffic backups are, or even bridge information.

That way those who want to go elsewhere can, without further clogging the already congested roadways in frustration. When parking is all taken, motorists will know and be able to make choices for themselves. Having thousands of cars lap the island in a futile search of a legal parking space is in no one’s best interest.  

This wouldn’t deter those willing to illegally park, but it would be a giant step in the right direction for those seeking a legitimate parking space.

When parking is full, it is full — but that frustration drivers feel as they search to find a space to park on Wrightsville can be palpable and that frustration causes accidents, not to mention high blood pressure. 

Likewise when the drawbridge connecting the island town to the mainland gets stuck in the up position, and it does, signage could also be effective in reducing a great deal of driver angst. 

On Saturday, with record crowds on the way, the drawbridge was stuck during the 10 o’clock opening. NCDOT district engineer Kerry Cross, in an email forwarded from NCDOT district electrician John Lange, said a breaker tripped when the bridge was closing for the 10 a.m. Saturday opening. The bridge tender could not get the breaker to reset before an NCDOT technician arrived on scene. Eyewitnesses waiting to cross said the total time the bridge was stuck about 8-10 feet in the air was 20-25 minutes.

We live in the information age, information technology abounds. Letting those know what was happening ahead as they sat in standstill traffic would have gone a long way in reducing frustration for beach-bound motorists.

Last week was a frustrating week for the family members of Zack Tyler who say the DOT removed the white painted (Ghost Bike) bicycle memorial to Zack, allegedly killed by a hit and run driver, Judith Margaret Nemeth, on the night of June 13 while riding his bike in the bike lane, westbound on Wrightsville Avenue from his job on Wrightsville Beach.

In multiple Facebook appeals, Zack’s mother Beverly Yopp requested help at what appeared to be a complaint-driven removal by the DOT of the memorial to her son at the location near where he died adjacent to the Lumina Commons shopping center. Many, many others posted agreement with Yopp that the premature removal was not a kind thing to do. And now the white bicycle is back. While technically an illegal roadside memorial, it stands not only in remembrance of Zack, but as a constant reminder to pay attention as we drive, not to be texting, or driving with any other impairment, not to mention the irreversibility of poor choices. 

I hope those in power at the Department of Transportation can allow it to remain as they consider a better and kinder way to funnel people onto Wrightsville.  

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