Ocracoke Update:  Life without a highway
January 31, 2008


Beach detour adds time to daily commute to work on the ferry

By JAMIE TUNNELL




One of the benefits of living in a village that is just three square miles is the commute. A National Public Radio study showed that Americans commute an average of 25 minutes, which adds up to almost nine full days a year behind the wheel.

 The average commute for most residents on Ocracoke is fewer than five minutes, even on the busiest day of July, whether you drive, walk, or bike.

 Tourists often ask if there are many commuters who work off the island. Commuting to Swan Quarter or Cedar Island just isn’t practical with the 2.5-hour ferry ride one way. Commuting to Hatteras though is not such a far-fetched idea. There have been residents who have worked at Cape Hatteras School as well as island children who have been enrolled there.

Pam Midgett has worked for the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division for 28 years. She currently works as an office assistant for the ferry maintenance and dredge operations - in Hatteras. She has been commuting to Hatteras regularly for the last four years. Her 20-minute drive to the Hatteras ferry has been extended to about 30 to 40 minutes, which includes the beach detour. That’s in addition to the 40-minute ferry ride across the inlet and the short walk over to her office. Then the process repeats in reverse each afternoon.

 “At first, I was really nervous about driving on the beach because I really have never driven out there,” said Midgett, who has lived on Ocracoke for 16 years and grew up in Hatteras. “But it’s not been bad at all.”

With her first few trips, when the beach detour first started, she said that the ramps weren’t very well-marked. But after a few test runs, she was fine.

“The whole project was so well-planned,” said Midgett.


She said that it is definitely easier driving in the daylight and a much smoother ride if you can drive down by the water.

Laughing, she said, “I definitely have prayed about it. I’ve been safe so far and I always see Jarvis Williams out there.”

Jarvis Williams of Cape Point Exxon in Buxton is working under contract to DOT during the beach detour to tow vehicles that get stuck out of the sand at no cost to the drivers.

Coming from the other side every day is Heather Oden, a nurse at the Ocracoke Health Center. She commutes from Hatteras, Monday through Friday.

“I catch the 7 a.m. ferry over from Hatteras, which is what I’ve always done,” said Oden. “I just arrive at the Health Center a little later, around 8:20.”

She has had problems coming over because of limited space on the ferry.

“There have been two mornings that I was bumped because of some big trucks coming over,” said Oden. “Luckily, they ran a ferry at 8 a.m.”

Oden arrives home a little later than usual.
 
“On most days, I catch the 6 p.m. ferry back to Hatteras, instead of the 5 p.m.,” she said. During the beach detour project, the Hatteras ferry schedule runs limited hours, leaving Hatteras on the odd hours and Ocracoke on the even hours.
 
Like Midgett, Oden was nervous about driving on the beach but quickly fell into the routine.

“I really thought it would be harder,” said Oden. “I always see Jarvis and feel pretty comfortable taking the detour. Plus, who else can say they have to drive on the beach to get to work?”

   


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