The only 45 mph speed limit within the town of Wrightsville Beach will be lowered to 35 mph. After a unanimous vote by the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen the town has requested the DOT lower this speed limit.
At the board’s meeting on Thursday, Oct. 10, representatives from the North Carolina Department of Transportation said the decision to change the speed limit on Salisbury Street to 35 mph would make common sense.
George Eckart, NCDOT assistant division traffic engineer, said the risk of a pedestrian fatality decreases from 22 percent to 7 percent between 40 and 30 mph, and that the slower speed would only add 20 seconds to a motorist’s trip down the 1.3 miles of Salisbury Street.
“I think it makes logical sense, I think it would be good for not only residential motorists but also the ones coming in from out of town so they know when they are driving around the Loop it is a consistent speed limit,” Eckart said.
The last speed study completed by NCDOT on Salisbury Street was in 2010 and in that study NCDOT division engineer Karen Fussell said 85 percent of the drivers were traveling at less than 45 mph. That statistic was another reason NCDOT recommended lowering the speed limit, Fussell said. “When we do these speed studies rarely is the 85th percentile less than the posted speed,” Fussell said.
Alderwoman Susan Collins expressed concern that NCDOT had not conducted a more recent speed study on Salisbury Street and said she would be in favor of waiting until another was completed to address the speed limit.
“With the bridge construction going on right now I feel like that all of this is premature,” Collins said. “We don’t even know what the traffic flow is going to be like when the bridge is back.”
In response Eckart said a new study would not likely show anything different and that the change would undoubtedly be an improvement to pedestrian and cyclist safety.
Around six residents spoke in favor of the speed limit reduction during the public hearing, including newly appointed Wrightsville Beach Foundation co-president Jim Smith.
“You know we went through this a year ago … I really can’t believe we are even discussing this, I mean it makes perfect common sense,” Smith said. “The worst thing is we have a town ordinance that says you can’t ride your bike on the sidewalk so now you are telling mom and dad to ride in the street with their kids next to 45 mph traffic.”
Resident Dr. John Powell also called for the board to make a judgment based on common sense.
“As a physician practicing for over 45 years one of my goals has always been to offer common-sense advice and I find it unbelievable that anyone would not consider DOT’s recommendation for safety,” Powell said. “Anything less is not using good judgment.”
At the conclusion of the discussion and public input the board passed a resolution to request the DOT lower the speed limit to 35 mph on the entirety of Salisbury Street up to the municipal town limits on the eastern half of the Heide Trask Drawbridge. Fussell said her department would work with the City of Wilmington to have the 35 mph zone extend further west over the bridge.
On Tuesday, Oct. 15, Owens said the process could take up to eight weeks for the change to occur.
Another potential transportation infrastructure change will be the subject of a special public hearing set for Thursday, Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall. During the board’s review of possible bike, pedestrian and intersection improvement projects the town could submit for grant funding, the board could not agree on the amount of public input the town should elicit before applying for a grant.
Alderwomen Collins and Elizabeth King said they thought the board agreed not to apply for any grants until a year after the town’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan was approved in February.
While they were not against setting another public hearing, Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti and Mayor Pro Tem Bill Sisson pointed out that these projects were coming from the Comprehensive Transportation Plan that was formed using citizen input.
The project up for discussion at the public hearing would encompass improvements to the Waynick Boulevard, Causeway Drive and North Lumina Avenue intersection at a total budgeted cost of $292,000. If awarded the grant, the town would be required to contribute at least 20 percent of the project cost, or $58,400.