State agrees to lower U.S. 158 speed limit in KDH
After a fatal accident at the Colington Road intersection in September of last year, the town petitioned the state Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit to 35 mph.
The light was malfunctioning and had switched to flashing mode at the time of the accident. The town had also asked NCDOT to look at its procedure for responding to malfunctioning signals.
On Wednesday night, the town’s Board of Commissioners voted to proceed with lowering the speed limit from 50 mph to 45 mph. The town will send a confirmation letter to the state, which will prepare an ordinance for the board’s approval.
NCDOT said it would go along with lowering the speed limit to 35 mph on the stretch of Colington west of the traffic signal. Now, it is 45 mph from the U.S. 158 intersection to Baum Bay.
Commissioner Mike Hogan said that years ago, during a discussion of lowering the speed limit to 35 mph, the concern was that an abrupt change from 50 mph could cause an “accordion effect” of more backups and accidents.
During the peak of the summer season, heavy traffic usually slows down to 35 mph or less in the densely commercial “french fry alley.”
In a letter to the town, NCDOT District Engineer Jerry Jennings said that one of four traffic signal technicians is assigned to Dare County. Two live in Barco and generally are available to respond to malfunctioning signals during off hours.
NCDOT and the town received some criticism because the light was left flashing during late afternoon traffic and no police officers were sent to help with traffic control.
The previous board of commissioners quickly adopted a policy that called for sending officers immediately to the scene of malfunctioning traffic lights. The policy was rescinded by the new board because of liability concerns.
Jennings wrote that training police officers to reset malfunctioning lights would be impractical because problems can be more complicated and would require specialized training.
A town employee could be assigned to the job, but that also would require extensive training and certification.
The board decided not to wait and to move forward to reduce the speed limit before the tourist season. Town Manager Debora Diaz suggested lowering the speed limit to 45 mph as soon as possible and “see how that calms the traffic.” Another request could be made later, she said.
Commissioner Paul Buske initiated the request for a lower speed limit. He was absent from Wednesday’s meeting but told Mayor Sheila Davies that he still wanted to push for 35 mph.
Nags Head has also been asked to consider lowering the speed limit to 45 mph between the town line at 8th Street and Woodhill Drive at Nags Head Elementary School.
Multiple charges were filed against the driver of a car that ran through the flashing red signal and collided with a pickup on U.S. 158. A man in the truck died.
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