Soundside residents urge Nags Head commissioners to help alleviate traffic conditions

Published 7:45 am Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Nags Head commissioners spent almost an hour of the April 6 meeting listening to over a dozen residents of the Soundside Road community share concerns over the traffic and unsafe conditions in their neighborhood due to the mass amount of vehicles attempting to access Jockey’s Ridge State Park Sound Access.

Mayor Ben Cahoon opened public comment by reading four letters from concerned community members who could not attend the meeting in person. Following the letters, many residents shared personal stories of vehicle collision near misses, smashed mailboxes and the communal feeling of a lack of safety for themselves, their children and their pets in what used to be a quiet residential area.

“The state did not take over the access. The town gave up control and residents of the area are paying the price,” said Soundside Road property owner Megan Vaughn, who was part of the Soundside Working Group formed in the summer of 2020 that represented over 100 residents of the Soundside and Southridge neighborhoods. “Unfortunately, much of the working group time and many months since have been spent discussing the needs and wants of the state park. We waited nine months to be told that the state is not willing to make changes that might improve neighborhood conditions. In fact, there are expansion plans that will make an already dangerous situation much worse.”

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Vaughn continued, “Unfortunately for us, the state park seems focused on counting as many visitors as possible all day, into the evening, and even after hours. The residents, on the other hand, deserve to live in a safe quiet west side neighborhood . . . The amount of traffic is threatening and dangerous and I respectfully request that the town address this important public safety issue before someone is injured or worse. While we appreciate what you’ve done so far, it is not enough.”

Resident Bobbie Murray echoed the same sentiment: “I do not want to talk about or hear any more about what the state will or won’t do. I don’t want to hear about any more traffic studies, traffic counts, or surveys. What I want to hear is what can be done with the help of the town – with the town in charge – to alleviate the unacceptable volume of traffic and the lack of public safety on our neighborhood streets. We have many families with infants and toddlers who are not safe taking a walk. I feel that it’s time for the town to step up and do something to help us.”

While commissioners do not respond to public comment, at the conclusion of the meeting, after the speakers had left the meeting, commissioners did discuss the situation among themselves.

At the conclusion of the meeting, during commissioner reports, several commissioners addressed the public comments. Commissioner Mike Siers asked town manager Andy Garman if there was any update from Jockey’s Ridge State Park to move forward with a parking lot expansion or any additional activity.

Garman did confirm that “there is there is no current plan to do anything at the park right now.”

Commissioner Kevin Brinkley was appreciative of the Soundside and Southridge residents who submitted letters and attended the meeting in person. “We were elected by the citizens and we don’t represent the park, we represent the citizens of this community. I would be interested in hearing from staff any recommendations – whether they recommend a further decreasing of the speed limit or any other traffic devices on that road. I’d be interested in that and an increase in traffic enforcement and speed enforcement in that area.”

Roberta Thuman, public information officer for the Town of Nags Head, sent the following in response to a request from The Coastland Times for a statement on the matter:

“Our residents’ safety is important to us. As a close-knit community, we value the high quality of life we have here and the abundant natural resources we all enjoy. Nags Head’s Board of Commissioners and the Town’s staff prioritize issues such as our community’s safety and public access to our area’s waters.

“Over a year ago, when residents in the Soundside Road area shared concerns about increased, unsafe vehicular and pedestrian traffic related to the State-owned public sound access at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, we worked quickly to address the problems. A working group, consisting of Town staff, as well as Soundside Road residents, was established and, in April 2021, the Town’s Board of Commissioners adopted recommendations from that working group. We communicated those recommendations to Jockey’s Ridge State Park Superintendent Joy Greenwood. The State, in turn, made several changes to alleviate the issues, such as changing the operating hours of the access, tracking traffic inside the access, and encouraging local groups to carpool when they are conducting activities at the access.

“On our part, we installed ‘No Parking’ signs along the road, a four-way stop in the vicinity of the access entrance, and increased our police presence in the area. In addition, we expect to reduce the road’s speed limit to 20 mph, installing traffic calming devices as well as a digital radar sign to raise speed awareness for oncoming drivers.

“We have spoken publicly about this work in several of our Board of Commissioners’ meetings. As Superintendent Greenwood has publicly stated, and as we have also stated to the residents of the area, there are no plans to increase the size of the parking lot at the access. 

“We will continue to be transparent about our efforts to address these safety issues. For the most recent information from our Board and our town manager, Andy Garman, please view a video of our March 2, 2022 meeting at https://youtu.be/Rlzw1cr8Q8Q. There is a quick link under the video that will take you directly to the discussion. Click on ‘Show More’ and the agenda, with the links, will appear.

“On another note, questions regarding the water quality at the access have been raised. The North Carolina Recreational Water Quality Program, in conjunction with the Town of Nags Head, monitors the water quality at the Jockey’s Ridge sound access. Data on the water quality can be found on the State’s web site at https://deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/marine-fisheries/shellfish-sanitation-and-recreational-water-quality/recreational-water-quality#about-the-program.”

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