November 14, 2012

High winds and seas continue to slow Highway 12 repairs
…WITH SLIDE SHOW


By IRENE NOLAN


High winds and heavy seas after the passage of a cold front yesterday have further hampered North Carolina Department of Transportation efforts to repair the damage done to Highway 12 on Oct. 27-28 as Hurricane Sandy brushed the island.

Dunes were flattened and many feet of sand covered the road on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, asphalt in the southbound lane coming off the temporary bridge at Pea Island Inlet was damaged, and the road and sandbags were damaged and the dunes flattened at the S-curves just north of Mirlo Beach.

As NCDOT and contractors began repairs last week, along came a northeaster. It did not do further damage to the highway but sand and ocean washed onto the road.

DOT cleaned that up and opened a four-wheel-drive route through Pea Island at noon on Saturday, then had to close it briefly when a traffic accident between two dumps trucks killed one highway worker and injured another early Sunday morning.

The four-wheel-drive area was open Monday and much of Tuesday from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. with Dare County first responders escorting drivers with a pilot car before dawn and after dusk.

The high seas and tides after the passage of the cold front yesterday had the road closed last night and this morning because of ocean overwash at high tide.

The four-wheel-drive route reopened about 1 this afternoon, but is likely to be closed again at tonight’s high tide, which is about 7:30.

And, as if all that wasn’t enough, the wind and waves will continue battering northern Hatteras Island through the week and another northeaster is forecast for the weekend.

“Four-wheel-drive access on Pea Island along N.C. 12 is open again, following closure due to ocean overwash this morning,” according to a late afternoon news release from DOT. “Access is expected to be closed intermittently during upcoming storms, and could occur with very little advance notice due to rapidly changing weather conditions.”
 
“Whenever we have high tides and strong winds, the possibility of dangerous traveling conditions due to overwash increases greatly,” said NCDOT Division Engineer Jerry Jennings. “NCDOT crews and contractors are working hard to restore N.C. 12, but we are at the mercy of the weather.”

DOT has said since the hurricane that it hopes crews and contractors could get the highway open to all traffic by Thanksgiving, but that goal is in jeopardy with the current weather forecast.

And if the four-wheel route is closed or open only intermittently, Thanksgiving week travel will be hampered because the only reliable access is now by ferries, which are also sometimes at the mercy of the wind and tide conditions in the sounds.

Also today, a grouping of three Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative transmission poles was threatened by overwash just north of Mirlo Beach. The poles are now stabilized, according to CHEC executive director Susan Flythe.

There was a dune sitting around the three poles until Sandy,” Flythe said.  Now, she added, the poles sit in a shallow depression that keeps filling up with water from overwash.

First, CHEC added more guy wires to stabilize the poles, and today, Flythe said, the cooperative got permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CAMA to place sandbags around the poles.

Weather forecasters are saying that the new coastal storm will slowly develop off the southeast coast Saturday into Sunday, then move along the coast through early next week.

“This system has the potential to bring strong wind, locally heavy rainfall, and coastal flooding late this weekend into early next week,” according to the National Weather Service.

Models differ on how far off the coast the storm will be, and effects could be more damaging if the storm is closer to the Outer Banks.

The Weather Service at Newport, N.C., today issued a coastal flood advisory until 7 p.m. Sunday.  The advisory says that a combination of prolonged north to northeast winds plus a monthly above normal tide could produce tide levels 1 to 2 feet about normal and minor ocean overwash along Highway 12.

However, we know that even minor overwash now could be a problem and set back highway repairs.

Here is what we know now about Hatteras Island access:

  • There is now no chance that DOT will finish repairs early and open Highway 12 to all vehicles this weekend.
  • Anyone can enter Hatteras – and Ocracoke – but only four-wheel-drive vehicles have access to the highway between Rodanthe and the Bonner Bridge.
  • Drivers of four-wheel- drive vehicles should expect a rough ride, which will include traveling over sand, damaged pavement and some water. On the sandy portions of the route, they will follow lane markers comprised of barrels, cones and/or flags.
  • Those who drove the route before the most recent overwash said it was not difficult with one lane of asphalt in each direction in most areas and one-lane travel at the S-curves, the temporary bridge, and the Bonner Bridge.
  • The four-wheel drive access is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Because of the hazardous driving conditions, Dare County first responders are escorting drivers before dawn and after dusk when the road is accessible to traffic.
  • NCDOT asks motorists to follow these important safety measures on the four-wheel drive access
  • Only drive four-wheel drive vehicles with a high ground clearance. Cross-over four-wheel drive vehicles that are lower to the ground may get stuck in the rugged terrain;
  • If you drive at night, use extreme caution. There will be no lights staged along the route, so your vehicle’s headlights will offer the only way for you to see;
  • Drive slowly; 
  • Pay close attention to the temporary traffic signals and
  • All four-wheel drive vehicles are encouraged to lower tire pressure to minimize the chances of becoming stuck.
  • Motorists are urged to “know before you go” about traffic conditions along the Outer Banks. For real-time travel information at any time, call 511, visit www.ncdot.gov/travel or follow NCDOT on Twitter at www.ncdot.gov/travel/twitter/.
  •  Other than the four-wheel-drive route, access to Hatteras is only by emergency ferry between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe or by sound ferries from Swan Quarter or Cedar Island to Ocracoke and then the Hatteras Inlet ferry from Ocracoke to Hatteras Island.
  • Ferry schedules can be found at the end of this article.  Sound ferries require a reservation. The Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry is running only every two hours instead of every hour.
  • Travel by ferry is available to residents, visitors, and supply and repair trucks.
  • Supply trucks have priority at all times, and Hatteras residents have priority Monday through Friday.
  • The waits have been long – hours at times -- on the emergency ferry, which takes at least two hours to cross the sound.  You are advised to arrive early and be patient.  You might also consider bringing water, coffee, soft drinks, and snacks.

Emergency ferry schedule

The emergency ferry is open to everyone, including visitors.
 
Those wishing to use the emergency route are reminded to expect waits and to be patient, as priority status is still in effect. Repair and supply trucks have priority at all times. Dare County residents have priority Monday through Friday.
 
The Stumpy Point-Rodanthe schedule is:

  • Departing Stumpy Point: 6 a.m., 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 12 noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m., and 10 p.m.
  • Departing Rodanthe: 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m, 7 p.m., 9 p.m., 11 p.m.

Ferry information is available by calling 800-293-3779 (BY-FERRY) and pressing 1, or via Twitter at www.twitter.com/ncdot_ferry.

Directions to the Stumpy Point Emergency Ferry Dock at 100 Log Storage Road, off Highway 264:  Take Highway 64 to Highway 264.  Follow Highway 264 approximately 13 miles past the entrance to the village of Stumpy Point.  Signs for emergency ferry service are posted to ferry entrance that will be on your left. 

Directions to the Rodanthe Emergency Ferry Dock at 23170 Myrna Peters Road, Rodanthe:  Turn west off Highway 12 onto Myrna Peters Road, which is located just north of the Community Building in Rodanthe. 

Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry schedule

Visitors can now enter Hatteras Island via the Hatteras Inlet ferry. The ferry is still running every two hours.

The Hatteras-Ocracoke schedule is:
  • Departing Hatteras at 6 a.m., 8, 10, noon, 2 p.m., 4, 6, 8, 10 and midnight; and
  • Departing Ocracoke at 5 a.m., 7, 9, 11, 1 p.m., 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11.
For visitors wishing to come to Hatteras through Ocracoke, keep in mind that travel from Cedar Island to Ocracoke and Swan Quarter to Ocracoke requires a reservation by calling 1-800-293-3779.

Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries

For schedules and reservations on the ferries from the mainland to Ocracoke, go to the N.C. Ferry Division website at http://www.ncdot.gov/ferry/. The Ferry Division has been adding extra departures to and from Swan Quarter on the weekends.

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