Monday, July 29, 2013

Wild Horse Tours subject to new rules (Reprint by Request)

Currituck revises rules for horse-tour operations Corolla wild horse tours did very well this year and is a major economic engine for Currituck County, N.C., but complaints about too many vehicles on the beach and in the area are still coming in. County commissioners are looking at new restrictions that will limit the number of vehicle and hours of operation. (By Jeff Hampton The Virginian-Pilot © January 9, 2013 CURRITUCK, N.C. After three years of debate and public input, Currituck County commissioners this week approved a new ordinance that will rein in the long rows of tourist-filled Jeeps rolling through the Currituck Outer Banks beach in search of wild horses. The ordinance will: -- Cap the number of tour operators at the 10 already in business. -- Require each operator to buy a license renewed annually at a cost of $950 per vehicle. -- Limit tour operators to five vehicles. Those who own fewer than five cannot expand. The total number will drop to 32 from 48. -- Outlaw the use of buses for tours. -- Limit tour hours to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. west of the dunes. Although the fee is high, horse-tour operators generally support the new law, said Jay Bender, owner of Corolla Outback Adventures, which has a fleet of more than five vehicles. "By and large, this is a good thing," Bender said. "It was inevitable it was going to be needed." The new ordinance takes effect immediately. Previously, horse-tour businesses had to get a county permit to operate, but there was no fee, and their fleet size was limited only by the amount of parking they had. License revenue will raise $30,400 annually for administrative costs, as well as park and road maintenance within the four-wheel-drive communities. "I think we've done our homework on this," said Currituck County Commissioner Vance Aydlett. "I feel good about it." Tour operators must follow the longstanding rules as well, including the 15 mph speed limit when driving within 300 feet of people. They and customers must remain at least 50 feet from a wild horse. Operators who get cited for two or more violations in 30 days will have to shut down for three days. Five citations in 30 days will mean a 10-day suspension, and 10 or more citations will lead to license revocation. One suspension could cost a lot of money. A company with five vehicles, each with a capacity of 14 customers, would typically charge $35 a customer per trip and could run five trips a day. A three-day suspension would result in more than $36,000 in lost ticket revenue. "I believe that is severe enough," Aydlett said. About 120 horses roam north of Corolla on a strip of beach about 12 miles long and a mile wide. The herd naturally divides itself into smaller groups of a few mares and foals led by a stallion and can be seen grazing in the meadows, walking along the dunes and even standing in the shade of a multimillion-dollar oceanfront home. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund oversees the health and safety of the herd. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the number of tours grew. Tour drivers were often accused of going too fast along the criss-crossing sandy roads, making the numerous pond-size potholes even worse. Residents complained that tourists would get too close to the wild horses, in some cases putting small children on the animals' backs. Officials, residents and even some tour operators called for more restrictions. Wild-horse tours in Corolla attract about 3,000 people a day during the summer. Last year, North Carolina tourism officials highlighted the wild herd in its national advertisements. Jeff Hampton, 252-338-0159,

NCDOT starts new Formula for determining NC projects including the Mid Currituck Bridge

Below is an interesting article on where the fate of the Mid Currituck Bridge may lie.

<b>NCDOT Starts Moving on Strategic Mobility Formula Priorities From the Crosstown Traffic Blog News & Observer NCDOT starts moving on Strategic Mobility Formula priorities Submitted by BruceSiceloff on 07/12/2013 – 06:47 When the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory approved the Strategic Mobility Formula, a sweeping new change in state guidelines for distributing transportation construction dollars, they left it up to the state Department of Transportation to work out a lot of important details. The big plan is to make this a largely “data-driven” process, and to link transportation infrastructure projects with jobs and economic development. The state Board of Transportation, most of its members McCrory appointees, got its first formal look Thursday at DOT recommendations for criteria and weighting that will be used to score new road projects — and capital projects for transit, aviation, ferry and rail improvements. (See 6/24/13 Road Worrier column with reader comments.) DOT leaders plan to make changes in recommendations that were developed over the past several months by a statewide advisory workgroup. This is complicated stuff, but it will be important in determining how future leaders spend limited transportation dollars. The transportation board and NCDOT will report their recommendations to a legislative oversight committee in August, with updates to follow in October. DOT leaders hope to start using the new criteria next year to evaluate future projects. They won’t change their evaluation of old projects already in the pipeline. Attached below are two documents handed out, and given only a brief public discussion, at Thursday’s board meeting (plus a more detailed June meeting handout on the Strategic Mobility Formula). They show the recommendations developed over the past several months by a statewide workgroup of city and rural officials and transportation planners. Board members said they want to make some changes before they present their plan to legislators in August. As provided in McCrory’s Strategic Mobility Formula, transportation dollars will be doled out at three levels: 40 percent for statewide projects, 30 percent in each of seven regions, weighted according to population, and 30 percent divided equally among DOT’s 14 divisions. Statewide project spending will be 100 percent data-driven. The DOT workgroup recommended weighting the evaluation of road projects this way: (1) travel time benefits compared to overall project cost (30 percent of total score), congestion reduction (30 percent), economic competitiveness (10 percent), safety (10 percent), and “multi-modal (& freight + military)” (20 percent). Those terms are defined on one of the documents below. There are different criteria for other spending levels. Regional spending would be 70 percent data-driven, with 30 percent of the decision based on “local input.” It turns out that NCDOT defines local input as half coming from local elected leaders, and half coming from NCDOT division engineers. Division spending would be 50 percent data-driven and 50 percent “local input,” again giving NCDOT administrators half of the vote in that “local input” category. Note that the workgroup assigned only a 10 percent weight to “economic competitiveness,” a category defined to cover two things: increasing productivity by reducing travel times, and creating jobs. Board member Mike Smith of Raleigh said he hoped to change the definition for “economic competitiveness,” but he didn’t say how. “Economic competitiveness” is a phrase often on the lips of McCrory and other elected officials. DOT leaders want to give it a bigger weight in the formula, boosting it to 15 or 20 percent. “We would like to see some expansion of that as a weighting,” said Ned Curran of Charlotte, the board chairman. They want to reduce the weight given to congestion reduction and travel-time improvements. And they want to test the formula by plugging it into a couple of projects, just to see how it would grade them. (How will NCDOT rate the economic competitiveness of the troubled Garden Parkway toll project, predicted in an earlier NCDOT study to cause a net loss of jobs in the area? Stay tuned.) Board members broke into small groups Wednesday to talk about the Strategic Mobility Formula in closed meetings. They didn’t talk much in Thursday’s public meeting. Since the transportation board no longer has the power to approve road projects, it is by setting the evaluation criteria that board members will have their greatest impact on such decisions. After the meeting I asked Curran if he would make sure to have all future discussions take place in open meetings, so the public could learn how these important decisions are made. Curran sought to justify the privacy of small-group board discussions where the subject is “nuts and bolts” detail — rather than formal policy decisions, which are to be made in public. Late Thursday NCDOT said the board will discuss the Strategic Mobility Formula prioritization at a public meeting July 23. There was no indication that the board wants to have a direct conversation with members of the statewide workgroup that developed the “economic competitiveness” and other recommendations over the past few months.