As N.C. Highway 12 was battered by ocean overwash for nearly a week, crews from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) worked day and night to try to remove the inundation of saltwater and sand, and to reopen the highway as quickly as possible. Luckily, they also had a little help.
The National Park Service (NPS) has up to three full-time special equipment operators that normally provide maintenance for ORV beach access ramps and other Cape Hatteras National Seashore facilities. But when there’s a storm, these specialists sometimes assist the NCDOT in the massive effort to open the highway, and make it accessible once again.
“For any of these storms that include overwash or closures of the road, it’s a team effort,” said David Hallac, National Parks of Eastern North Carolina Superintendent. “That team is pretty large and includes NCDOT, Dare County Sherriff’s Office, Hyde County Sheriff’s Office, N.C. State Highway Patrol, and we help out as well.”
“We normally have three full-time equipment operators, and the reason why is our equipment operators try to maintain access to beach areas by grading ramps, grading the inside road in between the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Frisco, and working on the two-mile road at ORV Ramp 72, which requires constant work,” said Hallac. “Maintaining off-road vehicle ramps is their primary responsibility, but they could be working on anything, like fixing a septic system, or a water main leak.”
And that long list of tasks performed by these NPS team members includes emergency assistance to clear the highway during a storm.
During this last bout of bad weather, which closed N.C. Highway 12 from Sunday night until midday on Thursday, NPS had two special equipment operators working side-by-side with crew members from NCDOT, on both Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
“It’s the least we can do to help NCDOT and help participate in their tremendous effort to reopen the road,” said Hallac.
And now that the road is open and traffic is flowing once again, the NPS can turn their attention back to ensuring the off-roads to the beach remain open and accessible as well.
“One of the biggest concerns following these storms is that everyone is anxious to get back to the beach,” said Hallac. “We just want to make sure people are very cautious, as some locations may be inaccessible at high tide and the beaches have changed quite a bit [in the past few days.]”
“Resource management staff and law enforcement rangers are getting out to assess these ramps, and generally speaking, the large majority of ramps are accessible within 24-48 hours. We’re not anticipating any issues except severe erosion on some beaches, and a need for drivers to be really cautious.”
The NPS has helped out with storms before, but during Hurricane Teddy, they went a step further in the social media realm by posting regular updates on current beach conditions at popular sites, like South Beach in Buxton, or Pole Road in Hatteras.
“There’s certainly been a lot of sand that’s been moved around, and we’re confident that can be cleared, but there has been a tremendous amount of flooding in certain areas,” said Hallac. “[For example,] at South Beach Road, that entire one-mile route is underwater, so we’ll need to wait for it to recede, and repair the route [as needed] when it’s more accessible.”
There is still a bit of work remaining to ensure that the public can access all of the Seashore’s shorelines, but the big job of the week – reopening N.C. Highway 12 – is thankfully complete.
And while the NPS is proud that they were able to pitch in and lend a hand with clearing the highway, Hallac attests that it’s the NCDOT that deserves the recognition.
“All the credit in the world goes to the North Carolina Department of Transportation,” said Hallac. “Their staff really operate as heroes during these events. They are working in really challenging and dynamic conditions, and they always go above and beyond to re-establish transportation, and we really appreciate it.”
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