By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on June 8, 2021
On the heels of a Memorial Day weekend that reportedly brought unprecedented levels traffic to neighborhood streets, the Southern Shores Town Council on June 1 approved a budget amendment that would institute “No Left Turn” weekends two weeks earlier than previously scheduled.
The first of those weekends begins this weekend — on June 12— and will run through August 15, with mobile message boards, barriers and a police presence prohibiting no left turns from eastbound U.S. 158 onto South Dogwood Trail each Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The turn arrow at the traffic signal will also remain red during those times.
The weekend events are an attempt to deter vacationers from accessing South Dogwood Trail to use residential streets as a cut-thru to avoid traffic backups along U.S. 158 and N.C. 12 as they head to vacation destinations in Duck and Corolla.
And in the event that they don’t do enough to mitigate traffic congestion, the “No Left Turn” weekends may prove to be the first in a series of traffic control measures employed by the town.
The budget amendment approved by Council appropriates $7,600 to provide funding for the two additional “no left turn” weeks — on June 12 and 13, as well as June 19 and 20. Town Manager Cliff Ogburn told Council the cost per weekend for the contracted services that provide the event is $3,800 per weekend.
Mobile message boards have always been at the U.S. 158-South Dogwood Trail turn during these weekends, Ogburn noted, adding this year, another one will be situated on the Currituck side of the Wright Memorial Bridge. “We are going try to put one at the Currituck side of the bridge to give people plenty of notice that they can’t turn left,” he said.
Also on June 1, the Southern Shores Council gave Ogburn the authority to erect several seasonal local-traffic-only signs at East Dogwood Trail and Hickory, Hillcrest, Sea Oats and Wax Myrtle if the no left turn weekends prove not to be effective enough at preventing vacationers from using residential streets as a short cut to their destinations.
“We kicked this idea around of closing those four streets early on as a next step,” said Mayor Tom Bennett during the meeting. “First, we start with our no left turn, then if that doesn’t work, we put the barricades up…and we just hope we get seventy-five percent cooperation or better.”
Councilman Jim Conners voiced concern over whether “local traffic only” signs at the four roads connecting to East Dogwood Trail would only lead to other clogged streets.
“Keep in mind what we’re talking about here, we’re talking about putting up barriers to great number of streets here,” he said. “Is that what we want to do? That’s just a question we need to answer because we can cut off traffic from going down Sea Oats, but it’s not doing anything for the other streets.”
For his part, Councilman Leo Holland asserted: “We’ve got to try something. I’ve been involved in these conversations and we keep kicking and kicking [it down the road], and we’ve got to do something. It may work, it may not. And if it doesn’t, let’s fine tune it.”
The municipality began implementing the “no left turn” weekends back in 2018 to experiment with ways to deter the traffic that uses the cut-thru that begins on South Dogwood Trail and takes travelers through residential neighborhoods before putting them on N.C. 12. The municipality also conducted traffic counts during those weekends to determine what roads travelers were using as an alternative.
Last year, a town-appointed cut-thru traffic committee was formed, and the town brought in J.M. Teague Engineering & Planning to do a traffic analysis. The cut-thru committee met this March and made the recommendations for the strategic temporary road closures. The committee, as well as the consultant, also recommended an automated gate on South Dogwood Trail that would permit only property owners through.
Ogburn told the Voice, however, that the current council did not have an appetite for such a gate. Instead, it prefers to take calculated steps such as the “no left turn” weekends and then “local traffic only” blockades. Such a progressive process, he noted, will allow the town to evaluate the effects each step has on mitigating the congestion.
“There’s some concern that if we prohibit or close this road, then it just jams up this road,” Ogburn explained. He said that these mitigation measures would likely become permanent features during the busy summer season.
And then he mentioned the one long-awaited project, still a long way from fruition, that many in Southern Shores see as the ultimate answer to their clogged summer neighborhoods.
“I think we’re heading in that direction until the [mid-Currituck] bridge gets built – if the bridge gets built,” he said.