WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — The speed limit on a main route in Wrightsville Beach, the subject of years of residential concerns, will be raised right before the height of tourist season.
The Wrightsville Beach board of aldermen voted last week to make the speed limit on Waynick Boulevard, which runs from the Banks Channel Bridge to the south end, 35 miles per hour. This is a change from last year, when the speed limit was lowered during the summer months only to 25 mph due to safety concerns.
For many years, Wrightsville Beach residents and visitors have complained over what they see as a lack of safety measures on the road. During the summer, it culminates in a stressful environment at best and accidents at worst, as pedestrians cross four lanes in search of the sand.
In 2018, residents requested the road’s speed limit be reduced to 25 mph. Some who spoke during last week’s public comment also expressed this desire.
Rick Crowder, 23-year homeowner on Waynick Boulevard, described the process for crossing Waynick.
“You start, you stop, you back up, you look around for cars coming, you look at the other lane of traffic, then you run like hell to get across,” Crowder said. “It is extremely dangerous.”
He claimed he could see a difference when the speed limit was reduced last summer, claiming drivers slowed down and acted with more caution; however, the aldermen disagreed.
“I haven’t seen any data showing 25 will be better,” alderman Jeff DeGroote. “We got blown out by a hundred constituents for lowering it.”
During the meeting, aldermen Hank Miller and Ken Dull said they met with a representative from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which owns Waynick Boulevard, to discuss two options for this summer. Starting May 15, it could reduce the speed limit to 25 mph as it did in 2022 or keep it at 35 mph.
According to the two aldermen, NCDOT prefers the year-round 35 mph option. The aldermen were also considering adding more crosswalks to the three on the road currently; however, the two aldermen reported NCDOT was not favorable of that measure either.
Instead, NCDOT promoted traffic-calming techniques — speed radars, road narrowing, speed humps — to cut back on speeding.
More enforcement of the current speed limit is another traffic-calming method, one which the aldermen have noted has increased in the last year.
According to the Wrightsville Beach Police, total traffic stops in the town from January to March increased 74% from 341 to 562 from 2021 to 2022. Stops for speed increased 61% and DWIs increased 436% from 11 to 59.
“The numbers support 35 miles per hour,” Dull said.
The aldermen’s vote to revert back to the year-round 35 mph rule was unanimous.
The governing body also discussed bike and pedestrian improvements on Causeway Drive. After receiving a NCDOT grant in the fall, the aldermen approved a funding match of $67,311 for resurfacing and the addition of bike lanes on the road. The money will be pulled from unexpected expenses stores in the general fund.
The project includes two 7-foot bike lanes on both sides of Causeway Drive; the southern of which will connect to Old Causeway Drive, where a crosswalk is also proposed.The northern lane will provide a path to the town hall complex. On-street parking will need to be removed to provide enough room for the lanes.
The path will continue until Coral Drive, where it will turn into sharrows, or shared lanes with cars. However, the aldermen also discussed a potential opportunity to restructure the lanes on Causeway Drive, allowing for one westbound and two eastbound lanes. Re-striping the road would allow for legitimate bike lanes to extend to the town hall complex.
The town would need to make a formal request to NCDOT for this to occur. However, no action was taken on the item at the meeting.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this story stated the traffic stop data was for Waynick Boulevard only, however the data was collected from the whole town. PCD regrets the error.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org