|Ocracoke Update: Life without a highway
February 29, 2008
Ocracoke’s highway will re-open March 5
By JAMIE TUNNELL
- The long winter’s wait is almost over.
North Carolina Department of Transportation officials have announced
that Highway 12 on Ocracoke will re-open on Wednesday, March 5, at 5
p.m., which is 10 days ahead of schedule.
Highway 12 has been closed since Jan. 2 to replace seven bridges over
the island’s creeks. Traffic from the north has been routed
onto a 3-mile detour on the beach.
From the beginning of the project, NCDOT officials and the contractor
assured the community that the March 15 deadline allowed ample time for
bad weather and other delays. With advanced staging done in November
and December, the crews had a significant portion of the project
in place before the detour even began.
The project and beach detour have gotten a lot of publicity on local
blogs, in newspapers, on TV stations, and the official DOT site,
www.ocracokebridges.com. Even with a concentrated effort to let
travelers know of the beach detour project with large variable signs
and press releases, there were many travelers who didn’t learn
about the detour until they arrived in Ocracoke.
Jarvis Williams, who was contracted to provide towing service along the
3.3 miles of the beach detour, also offered a trailer ride for
two-wheel-drive vehicles that needed to get to the other end of the
In mid-January, Hyde County Emergency Manager Tony Spencer issued a
situational report to let people know how Ocracoke was faring. He
commented that on the detour‘s extensive use and the consistent
out-of-town traffic that could be found on the island in January. On a
personal note, it was always a surprise to see faces in Jason’s
restaurant that I didn’t recognize. And when taking reservations
at a local bed and breakfast, I was always surprised at the callers who
were interested in coming down in the dead of winter.
At one of the first public meetings to talk about the beach detour,
Hyde County Interim Manager Carl Classen told the group that “the
logistics of a project of this magnitude are difficult at best.”
That proved to be true. The extensive planning for medical emergencies,
delivery of goods and services, availability of gasoline, and public
safety were all considered and carefully planned for more than a year
before the detour began.
The plan was not always widely accepted throughout the community.
Business owners and residents were upset that there was no other
alternative and worried that potential visitors would be discouraged
from coming to the island.
“As early as 2005 we implored DOT to utilize an ‘inside the
dunes’ temporary bypass bridge detour system for NC 12 to
maintain traffic flow,” said Fred Westervelt, resident and local
business owner. “They and NPS declined. We now emerge from this
because of the ‘above and beyond’ efforts of many people
and agencies and with the weather of Divine providence. The cost and
inconvenience to Ocracoke has not been tabulated, but I'll guess it was
substantial. What could have been a really serious mess was averted. We
were lucky, very lucky!”
For the lodging industry, the businesses that stayed open had
complaints centered on not having places to eat and shop for people who
did visit in the winter. However, that’s a problem every
year, not unique to this winter. In the past, restaurant owners
collaborated about their schedules, so that everyone wasn’t open
at the same time. They know that there’s not enough business
during the winter months if it is shared.
And so, the Ocracoke community moves on into the spring and starts to
worry about bigger issues. Will tourists and residents be able to
continue driving on the beach this summer? Will high gas prices
halt vacations? Will being
the No. 1 beach for 2007 ultimately help us or hurt us? Will they start
serving coffee on the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferries? Will
developers have their way and ruin some of the most respected and
pristine spots on the island? Will Ocracoke gets its long awaited
parking at the lighthouse or on the edge of the village? What about
public bathrooms throughout the village? And how about trash cans?
So long to the winter break.
(Jamie Tunnell is the editor of The Ocracoke Observer and a freelance writer for The Island Free Press.)