Friday, September 30, 2011

Traffic rules being looked at on Carova Beaches

Way overdue. Let's hope a sensible balance can be achieved realizing people come to enjoy the beach (while most providing income to the local economy) while others need to use it for transit to provide services for those visiting. No easy solutions to this one, but necessary for long term preservation. Below is an article from the VA Pilot.

Currituck beaches face traffic issue
By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© September 25, 2011

On a beach where the sand is a playground, a highway and a refuge, the question is who gets priority - a 3-year-old girl with her plastic bucket, a 30-ton cement truck or a herd of wild horses?

Currituck County officials have labored over the problem for nearly 20 years, passing ordinances to limit speed and establish parking areas. Still, traffic on the beach north of Corolla gets thicker and conflicts persist.

Now comes the latest attempt to keep the peace.

A citizens committee appointed by the Currituck County Board of Commissioners has made several recommendations, including putting up more signs, establishing safe places to deflate and inflate tires and performing a study on a permit system, the most controversial option.

"We're just trying to find out what we can do," said Vance Aydlett, chairman of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners. "We've got to get our act together and figure out how we're going to skin this cat. There are no easy solutions."

During the summer, thousands of people drive off the end of N.C. 12 just north of Corolla and into deep sand that is the beginning of an 11-mile beach strand stretching to the Virginia line.

A local population drives back and forth daily to work and shop. Construction trucks rumble through constantly. Lines of vehicles in wild-horse tours pass through regularly. They all prefer to drive near the surf on the hard sand left behind at low tide.

Meanwhile, the hard sand known as the foreshore is also where children play, families set up umbrellas and beach chairs and anglers cast lines in the water. Some are there for the week, renting beach homes. Others come just for the day. Occasionally, wild horses gather right in the middle of it all.

At high tide, the hard sand is under water, people move back, and traffic has to travel in rough, deeper sand closer to the dunes. That sand is a bumpy ride, tough on vehicles and where inexperienced drivers get stuck.

Since at least 1994, county officials have established ordinances to attempt control. Sunbathers are supposed to leave the foreshore open. Vehicles should park perpendicular to the ocean in the middle of the beach between the surf and the dunes. Drivers should go only 15 miles per hour when within 300 feet of people; otherwise, the speed limit is 35. Everybody is supposed to stay at least 50 feet away from wild horses.

During the summer, deputies on all-terrain vehicles try to enforce it all.

"Two deputies go back and forth up there 10 hours a day," said Lt. Jason Banks with the Currituck County Sheriff's Office. "They're busy the whole time."

The most controversial option is to establish a permit system that could limit how many vehicles may drive onto the beach. The committee recommended a study to see how that would work. Many other beaches use permit systems, but they don't have the same situation where people are driving for work and for recreation on the same beach. Commissioners are mixed on that plan.

"I will never vote for a permit," said Butch Petrey, a Currituck County commissioner.

But Aydlett and Commissioner Paul Martin could support a permit system, they said.

Tourism is Currituck's most lucrative industry; it's been called the county's golden-egg-laying goose. In Corolla, real estate and rental companies, restaurants and other stores with hundreds of employees depend on the visitors.

The question comes up often: Is leaving the situation alone bad for business, or would a permit system and tighter controls drive people away?

"That's all to be determined," Aydlett said.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Officials hold meeting for Design ideas for Mid-Currituck Bridge

See the article below from the Daily Advance regarind a meeting being held to discuss some design elements for the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge.

Locals discuss bridge design

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Sunday, September 18, 2011

CURRITUCK — Business people and local leaders were recently part of an “idea gathering meeting” for the design of a mid-county bridge in Currituck.

The meeting, hosted earlier this month by the N.C. Turnpike Authority in Currituck, focused mostly on what the bridge may look like. The type of materials — tile, brick, concrete — were among the options discussed for the eight-mile span from Currituck’s mainland across Currituck Sound to the Outer Banks.

Plans for the bridge have it crossing the sound with landing points near Aydlett and Corolla.

The group discussed if the bridge should look modern or traditional. Or if the toll plaza should resemble the Whalehead Club or the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

“It appears to me that they are trying to incorporate things that are important to Currituck’s history into the design,” Currituck Commissioner Paul O’Neal, who attended the meeting, said in a phone interview.

O’Neal said the group leaned toward a low-profile bridge to reduce interference with ducks and other waterfowl. Most liked a non-intrusive design with low lighting to minimize the impact on Aydlett and surrounding areas, he said.

The groups also discussed how quickly the N.C. Turnpike Authority was moving toward construction, said Commissioner Butch Petrey, who also attended the meeting.

The project still needs official approval from the N.C. Department of Transportation, although plans for financing and design of the $660 million span have been advancing over the past year. The Turnpike Authority is expected to release its environmental impact statement this month and make its final decision on the project this fall.

According to Turnpike Authority, construction is tentatively scheduled to begin on the bridge in either late summer-early fall of next year and the span is slated to open to traffic in the fall-winter 2017.

Several in the group were concerned that plans for the bridge were moving too slowly, Petrey said.

State Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, was among those pushing for the project to move faster.

“We need to get it under construction as soon as possible,” said Owens, noting the bridge almost lost funding during budget deliberations in the General Assembly this year. Legislation to build the bridge passed in 1996, but the more time that lapses, the more difficult it becomes to ensure funding, Owens said in a telephone interview.

Financing for the bridge is expected to come from a mix of state and private dollars. The state agreed to pay $15 million a year for three years and $28 million thereafter for up to 50 years to keep the cost of tolls down. Construction and financing for the bridge would come from private investors who plan to recoup their investment by charging tolls, estimated to range from $6 to $12 one way. A recent study said one-way tolls could go as high as $28 during peak days of the tourist season.

The Turnpike Authority plans to use ideas from the meeting to develop design plans for the bridge, said Greer Beaty, communications director for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

A public meeting on the bridge’s design will be scheduled later, she said.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Charter School could become reality for Corolla

A recent article from the VA Pilot's Jeff Hampton:

Nonprofit to apply to open charter school in Corolla

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© September 11, 2011

By next fall, Corolla could open the first school on the isolated Currituck Outer Banks in more than 50 years.

The Corolla Education Foundation plans in November to apply for a charter school fast-track approval that would allow organizers to get trained and open the doors by September 2012, said Meghan Agresto, a parent and one of the founders of the nonprofit.

Corolla parents have been trying to open a school there for years. This summer, the North Carolina General Assembly opened the way by lifting the cap of 100 charter schools in the state.

Corolla would have fewer than 30 students, fewer than typically allowed for charter schools, but state officials could approve Corolla's request based on its isolation. Currituck County school officials support the plan, Agresto said.

A few Corolla students catch a bus before dawn under the flash of the Currituck lighthouse and ride for two hours or more to attend Currituck mainland schools. They arrive home after dark. Some parents drive their children to either Dare County or Currituck County schools.

The Corolla school would get approximately $8,000 per student from the state and county. An exact count of how many would attend is still uncertain, Agresto said.

"I've had people from Duck say they would come," she said.

The Corolla school would open a single small building and hold courses in core subjects with an emphasis on environmental sciences, including studies and field trips to nearby freshwater marshes, maritime forests and to see the wild horses.

Corolla's last small school closed in 1957 after the student population dropped following World War II.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mid-Currituck Bridge Decision expected to come soon

A recent article posted by the Daily Advance and a large document released by the NC Turnpike Authority indicate that we may soon know the answer to whether the Bridge could become a reality or not. Click here for the Turnpike document. Below is the article:

Bridge decision expected

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Saturday,September 3,2011

For more than a decade,Currituck residents have been hearing about a mid-county bridge,but with no final authorization to launch the project. That may change soon.

The North Carolina Turnpike Authority is expected to release an environmental impact statement this month and make a final decision by fall on building the proposed seven-mile span linking the mainland with the Outer Banks.

The EIS could be ready in weeks,said Jennifer Harris,director of planning and environmental studies for the Turnpike Authority. All responses from state and federal agencies are in,except for one,said Harris. The Turnpike Authority is still awaiting comments from the Federal Highway Commission before releasing the EIS.

“It’s getting very close,” said Harris.

Once the EIS is released,state and federal agencies and the public will have another chance to comment. Next comes the state’s record of decision — the final approval needed for the project.

Although a final decision has not been made,the state has already invested heavily in the project.

Currituck Development Group,a group of 17 private contractors,was awarded a $5 million contract for preliminary designs of a span stretching across the Currituck Sound from near Aydlett to just south of Corolla.

The preliminary work included a study to determine how much money the toll road would collect. The study released in July will be used to secure financing for the $660 million project,said Harris. The report concluded more than a million cars would cross the bridge and generate $13 million from tolls the first year it opens.

CDG also hired geotechnical engineers to collect soil samples from the Currituck Sound in June to aid in the bridge’s design.

Construction of the bridge will be funded with a combination of private and public funding,state officials have planned.

This spring,the state’s share of that funding appeared to be on shaky ground.

In 2010,the General Assembly approved $15 million a year for the bridge,but a power shift in the General Assembly and proposed budget cuts appeared to endanger the project. By the end of the session,however,the funding was restored.

Private investors have proposed to finance and construct the bridge,using tolls to pay for it.

The state funds would be used to subsidize construction so that tolls will not go above what motorists are willing to pay.

The state still needs to award a construction contract,but CDG appears to be the likely choice.

The state began financing negotiations last year with the limited liability company’s main contractor ACS Infrastructure Development,a major bridge-building company.

If the project goes according to the schedule,the bridge could be open to traffic by 2016.