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OBX Residents: “Safe Zone” For Beach Road Unsafe

OBX residents: ‘Safe zone’ for beach road unsafe

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Saturday, November 19, 2011

CAROVA BEACH — Residents on the Currituck Outer Banks say creating a “safe zone” to veer off-road traffic away from the shoreline will be anything but safe.

The idea of a safe zone sounds good, admits Lynne Wilson, one of 30 off-road residents who met to discuss the proposal last week at the Carova Fire and Rescue station. But residents who drive the beach daily know it will not work, she said. A vote by show of hands indicated the entire group agreed.

“Forcing vehicles to drive along the dune line is a nightmare solution,” said off-road residents Cheryl and Robert Ford. “Not only does it guarantee absolute gridlock for everyone … but it is also damaging to the fragile environment.”

Residents say creating the safe zone will steer traffic to soft, deep sand near the dunes. They predict inexperienced drivers will get stuck and cause a chain reaction as vehicles following behind lose traction when forced to stop. They say not only will traffic back up, but response times for emergency vehicles will suffer.

Donnie Tadlock of Carova Fire and Rescue said most accidents already happen near the dune line. In one case, a person got stuck in the soft sand and was injured as another vehicle circled around.

The safe zone is one of several changes being considered by Currituck commissioners to relieve heavy traffic and safety concerns on crowded off-road beaches during the height of tourist season. The safe zone would steer traffic away from one or two miles of shoreline so beach-goers do not have to cross traffic to swim.

Under present conditions, traffic on the 11-mile stretch of beach travels hard-packed sand near the foreshore and softer sand along the dune line while vehicles park in between. Sunbathers going for a swim have to cross traffic to reach the water.

Residents said the change in traffic pattern will not solve the problem.

“The problem is the volume of cars,” said Marie Long, who lives at Milepost 14.5, a location suggested for the proposed safe zone.

She’s counted 200 tightly packed vehicles lining less than a mile of beach in July. That many cars makes it difficult for residents, and even those who rent beach homes, to access the beach, which should be their right, she said.

Long said watching vehicles from her oceanfront home would convince anyone that redirecting traffic near the dune line would be a disaster.

“All you have to do is see it,” she said.

Long said the gridlock could cause motorists to damage dunes as they try to veer around traffic.

The residents said rather than creating a safe zone, the county should focus on two other solutions. One would be stricter enforcement of existing rules.

The county ordinance states that lawn chairs, coolers, fishing lines and people cannot block traffic driving on the foreshore.

Rufus Baldwin said beach-goers set up “tent cities” and other obstacles that block traffic, but the law is not always enforced. Instead, beach-goers wave him to go around or yell when he drives along the shoreline on his way home.

Rusty Thrasher said he was threatened after his radio antenna snagged a fishing line straddling the beach road.

“Word has gotten out they don’t have to follow the rules,” Long said of beach-goers.

The other solution suggested by residents — a permit system — has drawn the most criticism from some

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