CAROLINA BEACH — Drivers heading to Carolina Beach should keep an eye on the posted speed limits as changes could soon be coming to roads on Pleasure Island. Earlier this week the North Carolina Department of Transportation sent two letters to the Town of Carolina Beach regarding potential changes on Dow Road and Lake Park Boulevard.
According to Town Manager Michael Cramer, the first letter was a response to the town’s request for the NCDOT to conduct several speed limit studies as well as the need for turn lanes leading into the state park.
The second letter to the town was in response to a resident’s request for NCDOT to reduce the speed limit on Dow Road from 55 m.p.h. to 45 m.p.h.
NCDOT Division Traffic Engineer Jessi Leonard said that, although NCDOT had responded to the town regarding these issues, the letters sent to the town regarding the speed limit changes on Dow Road are currently void until more input is received from Kure Beach and Carolina Beach.
As a tool to study speed limits, NCDOT utilizes the 85th percentile speed which is defined in the letter as, “… the speed at or below which 85 percent of the sampled vehicles travel. The majority of drivers operate their vehicles at a speed that is comfortable without strict enforcement, regardless of signage. Typically, the 85th percentile speed is used to determine the speed limit. This helps avoid posting speed limits that are artificially low …”
Lake Park Boulevard
The Town of Carolina Beach requested a traffic study to reduce the speed limit on Lake Park Boulevard between Access Drive and Town Hall to 35 mph. The reduction in speed would essentially change the speed limit for drivers crossing Snows Cut Bridge onto the island.
The change in speed limit to 35 m.p.h. is not recommended by NCDOT because the 85th percentile speed on Lake Park Boulevard was 49 m.p.h. within the 35 m.p.h. areas, and 51 m.p.h. within the 45 m.p.h. zone.
Although the change is not recommended by NCDOT, the state would allow the town to pass a resolution stating the town is willing to enforce the lower speed limit and the change would be permitted. Leonard did say that she does not expect drivers to adhere to the lower speed limit without additional enforcement from the town.
“The Department would still consider the speed reduction if we received a resolution of support from the town. Typically, the department would not require endorsement from the surrounding municipalities if a road is outside of municipal limits. However, since the towns will be responsible for the enforcement based on their extraterritorial jurisdiction, we want to have their endorsement as well,” she said.
There are two separate requests regarding the speed limit on Dow Road. First, Carolina Beach asked NCDOT to reduce the speed limit to 35 m.p.h. on Dow Road from Lake Park Boulevard to Hamlet Drive.
Cramer said the NCDOT responded to this request stating, “This section on Dow Road does not meet warrants to change the speed limit per NCDOT requirements. NCDOT does not support lowering the speed limit from 45 to 35 m.p.h.”
The second request for a speed limit change on Dow Road stemmed from a citizen’s request to amend the speed limit to reflect 45 m.p.h. for the entire duration of the road, as opposed to the 55 m.p.h. speed limit that currently exists on one portion of the road.
This request initially received a favorable response from NCDOT and a letter sent to the Town of Carolina Beach stated, “Although the technical warrants are not met to lower the speed limit on SR 1573 (Dow Road), based on the site visit, roadway characteristics, and to maintain consistency along the route, we recommend a 45 m.p.h. speed limit.”
The proposed change to 45 m.p.h. was met with resistance from both Kure Beach and Carolina Beach.
Mayor of Kure Beach Emilie Swearingen said in an email to the NCDOT, “I’m a little concerned that DOT would change the speed limit in our extraterritorial jurisdiction based on a request from one citizen who could own property on the island but may not even live in New Hanover County. Do you ever discuss these decisions with local officials before making a final decision?”
NCDOT responded by saying that the proposed speed limit change is not located within any town limits.
Cramer also voiced his concerns with the potential change of speed limit on Dow Road in a letter to Town Council.
“NCDOT never reached out to the town to discuss this citizen’s request or if we supported the conclusion. We talked to the traffic engineer this morning about this issue and she stated that, because it is a state system street, NCDOT doesn’t have to talk to us to make this change. Given the fact that the town has not discussed this issue before, I don’t know what council thinks about the change from 55 to 45. I am concerned that we were not given the common decency to comment on the potential change,” he said.
While NCDOT initially responded to requests for speed limit changes on Dow Road, Leonard reiterated that the response from her is void and, “there is no action being taken at this time regarding the speed limit on Dow Road.”
Michael Praats can be reached at Michael.email@example.com