Malfunctioning stop light, crashes, repaving combine for long delays getting to Outer Banks

Traffic sits on the Wright Memorial Bridge the morning of Oct. 20, 2020. [Sam Walker photo]

The combination of a malfunctioning traffic light, crashes, breakdowns, and even fog, along with the repaving project underway on part of U.S. 158 in Kitty Hawk have led to lengthy traffic delays trying to cross the Wright Memorial Bridge since Monday.

RPC Contracting is grinding off the old surface and placing new asphalt along North Croatan Highway from the bridge to the Welcome Center, with work starting in the eastbound right lane.

Almost immediately after the lane closure began Monday morning, traffic was stacking up across the bridge over the Currituck Sound.

At least one crash was reported on the east side of “the hump” of the bridge, blamed in part due to thick fog that settled over the area. More delays were experienced all day Tuesday.

Another wreck and subsequent vehicle breakdowns led to some travelers taking 90 minutes to travel the 3 1/2 miles from Point Harbor to Kitty Hawk on Wednesday.

It turned out, there was more to the problem.

“We were actually able to determine that the main source of the traffic issue today was a malfunctioning traffic light,” N.C. Department of Transportation spokesperson Tim Hass said Wednesday afternoon.

“It was operating at a greatly reduced green cycle on US 158 and only letting a small number of vehicles through per cycle,” Hass said. “We were able to mobilize a signal technician to repair the issue.”

“We are getting reports from the project now that traffic is moving much more smoothly,” Hass said.

Work on the right, inbound lane has already been completed from the bridge to near the shopping centers as of Wednesday afternoon. [NCDOT image]

A number of bridge construction and road resurfacing projects in the area over the last several years have garnered questions about why the work can’t be done at night, such as what happens on busy thoroughfares and the interstates in other places.

Hass said there are several reasons why that’s not the preferable option for our area.

“Night paving during Dare County’s off-season can be prohibited by temperature,” Hass said. “We have minimum air and surface temperature specifications for the placement of asphalt pavement.”

“In the places we do night paving, we normally do it during the summer months. We do not believe paving during the summer visitor season in Dare would be a preferable option,” Hass said.

Hass noted the only local asphalt plant is located in Kitty Hawk, owned by RPC Contracting, and has operational limitations imposed by the town that prohibit it from running at night.

“This would require asphalt to be delivered from the next closest plants in Elizabeth City,” Hass said. “Again, attempting night paving in the off season would be make these long hauls difficult due to ambient temperatures.

Traffic control, worker and driver safety is also much more difficult at night, especially with the amount of vehicles using that part of U.S. 158 in Kitty Hawk.

“The number of side street and turning activities that must be monitored would be much more difficult, and potentially less safe at night,” Hass said.

Hass confirmed there will be no lane closures during weekends while the project is taking place.

As long as everything goes as planned, the repaving should be finished in less than two weeks. Until then, drivers may want to plan their travels accordingly.

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Sam Walker is news director for, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 and News Talk 92.3 WZPR. Reach him at [email protected]