The North Carolina Department of Transportation is putting more restrictions on the four-wheel-drive route on northern Hatteras Island because of an ongoing problem with vehicles getting stuck.
The problem area for four-wheel-drive vehicles is at the S-curves in northern Rodanthe. Now that the ocean is no longer regularly overwashing the route at high tide, the sand has dried out and become soft and churned up, making the tire ruts deeper.
The four-wheel route is just a set of tire tracks in each direction, and vehicles getting stuck are holding up traffic in both directions.
DOT said on its Facebook page today that about 45 stuck vehicles had to be towed on Sunday.
Today, DOT said that no trucks weighing more than one ton will be allowed on the route. One ton is basically the size of a Ford F350 or a Chevrolet/Dodge 3500. Vehicles towing trailers will also not be permitted to use the route.
There are two checkpoints on Highway 12 between the Bonner Bridge and Rodanthe. One is to the north at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center and the other is on the south end at Mirlo Beach. The checkpoints are manned by the Dare County Sheriff’s Office, which enforces requirements set by DOT.
Only four-wheel-drive vehicles will be allowed between these two checkpoints. Travelers without four-wheel-drive will be turned back.
The only exception to the “no trailers” rule will be the three contractors that have been regularly towing two-wheel-drive vehicles between Rodanthe and Oregon Inlet Fishing Center for a fee.
These contractors are not permitted to load vehicles between the two checkpoints.
Travelers are also reminded by the Dare County Sheriff’s Office that the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on northern Hatteras is currently closed to all pedestrian and vehicle traffic, so stopping along the highway to explore or take photos is not permitted.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adds that the highway is open as “a transportation corridor only.”
Lt. Greg Wilson of the county Sheriff’s Office said that deputies are basically advising folks on the four-wheel-drive route to “drive like you would on the beach on July 4.”
One major problem, he said, are drivers who are not taking down their tire pressure. There are places he said on both ends of the closed highway to put air back in your tires – at Oregon Inlet Fishing Center on the north and at Island Convenience on the south.
When you travel through the area of churned up sand at the S-curves, Wilson said, you should keep moving forward at a slow but steady rate of speed. Do not try to change “lanes” if the vehicle ahead of you gets stuck, he added. Just stop behind the vehicle and wait for it to be towed out.
Drivers who are changing “lanes” are getting stuck in the process or are blocking traffic coming in the other direction.
DOT also reminds drivers that vehicles getting stuck or changing “lanes” on the route are not only causing delays for others using the route but are also damaging the makeshift roadway.
The four-wheel-drive route is open from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., but before dawn and after dusk, the Sheriff’s Office is providing a pilot car that leads traffic between Rodanthe to the Bonner Bridge.