NEW HANOVER COUNTY ––– New Hanover County Commissioners sharply criticized the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s proposal to reduce the speed limit on River Road.
Initiated by requests put forth by Cape Fear Cyclists and a legislative nudge from Rep. Charlie Miller (R-New Hanover, Brunswick), NCDOT is proposing to reduce the speed from 55 mph to 45 mph on the southern portion of the well-traveled route.
Speed would be reduced from the exit point of River Road as it connects to Carolina Beach Road just before Snow’s Cut Bridge, past River Road Park –– a roughy 6-mile stretch.
NCDOT gave a presentation Monday before commissioners that likely did not go as planned. Commissioners chastised both the NCDOT representative and her department for coming unprepared, with a lack of specific data to support the change.
As the county does not own or maintain roads, the presentation was more of a courtesy. Division traffic engineer Jessi Leonard told the board there’s no required municipal certificate for the department to secure before going ahead with its plans. “Typically, if it’s within a municipality, we work with the municipality,” she said.
“And then you come to us and you ignore what we say,” Chair Julia Olson-Boseman chimed in.
Olson-Boseman was vehemently opposed to the proposal, stating while she supports cyclists, the road was built for traffic. “The last thing you need to do is slow traffic going in and out of Pleasure Island,” she said. As she lives in the area, Olson-Boseman shared she frequently gets stuck in crawling traffic and the need for alternate access to the beach is essential. “I’m totally opposed to it,” she said.
Commissioners were irked the presentation had not come before the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization, the local transportation group that includes NCDOT and local representatives. On that board, where commissioner Jonathan Barfield has served for more than a decade, “DOT has roughly 55% weight in decisions that are made.”
“So, typically, DOT is going to do what DOT wants to do, irregardless of what the local communities request,” he said. “If we give input that says we don’t want this, and your intent is to do the exact opposite, I would prefer you to say that right upfront so we can all be clear as opposed to not.”
Leonard said the department, in concert with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, collected speed data along the road, determining the average was 63 mph. Because NCDOT installed bike lanes along the roadway and is thereby advocating for bikers to use them, Leonard said the department has concluded a lower speed limit is necessary to keep cyclists safe.
The department has documentation of several collisions involving pedestrians and bikers along the roadway, Leonard reported –– data she didn’t have available before the board.
“Most people come here with an informed presentation to let us know exactly what we’re looking at with quantitative data,” Barfield said. “You just come here with words, with nothing else, with, ‘I don’t know.'”
Olson-Boseman proposed an alternate multi-use path extended from River Lights, but Leonard said that wasn’t something NCDOT would typically build or maintain.
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