By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on August 5, 2022
At its Aug. 2 meeting, the Southern Shores Town Council unanimously voted to reduce the current speed limit on its stretch of N.C. 12 from 45 to 35 miles per hour on a year-round basis. The move comes following an North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) traffic study that was conducted over the last year at the request of council
Town Manager Cliff Ogburn told the Voice that the speed limit will go into effect as soon as NCDOT puts up the new signs.
According to the traffic study, there have been 154 accidents on that stretch of N.C. 12 between 2017 and 2022. One of those accidents resulted in a fatality and 23 of them resulted in injuries. During the meeting, Mayor Elizabeth Morey pointed to that data, noting that “The crash rate is higher than the statewide rate for this type of road. I thought that was significant.”
The speed limit on N.C. 12 is currently 45 miles per hour, with an exception from May 15 through September 15, when it is reduced to 35 miles per hour from the southern town line north to Trout Run. Both the NCDOT and town staff have recommended the speed limit reduction.
“Setting the speed limit at a consistent rate through town would be less confusing to all motorists,” the town staff’s recommendation read. “Shoulder seasons are reaching well beyond September, and traffic remains heavy during a larger portion of the year. This increase in traffic will likely continue to make the case for the lower speed limit.”
The town recommendation noted that with a speed limit of 35 mph, low speed vehicles would be permitted to use N.C. 12 in Southern Shores.
Speaking to the NCDOT study, Ogburn said at the meeting that speed is not the only thing considered in the study, but also other data such as crashes, pedestrian use and curb cuts along the stretch of highway. He added that state statute gives municipalities the authority to set the speed limit even though it is a state road.
“[One] thing we know for certain is that speed matters when there is an accident,” Morey asserted. “In other words, when there’s a vehicle on vehicle, or a vehicle on a bicycle, or a vehicle on pedestrian [crash], the speed of the vehicle matters. And I think if we have a thirty-five rather than a forty-five [mph speed limit], we’ll have potentially better outcomes when we have those interactions.”
For her part, Councilwoman Paula Sherlock noted that the study indicated that there were 202 driveways along N.C. 12 in Southern Shores, along with 21 intersections with no traffic light and four intersections with traffic lights.
“There are a number of crosswalks and I know that residents want more crosswalks, but I don’t think it’s really safe to be putting crosswalks when you’ve got a forty-five mile-an-hour speed limit,” she added. If you reduce it to thirty-five, then I think people have a chance of safely getting across the road.”
Sherlock also said that although there are not a lot of big curves, there is a lot of vegetation that minimizes sight distances. “I think there’s also a value of having a consistent speed limit through the whole town because when you hit Duck, it goes back to twenty-five.”