Chincoteague Grapples With Causeway Traffic Safety

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By Carol Vaughn —

Resident Garry Pinkston during a public comment period at the Chincoteague Town Council meeting Monday asked the council to call on county and state officials about getting the Chincoteague causeway widened and adding other safety measures.
“There have been too many accidents on it; too many people are getting killed. …There needs to be a place where you can tend to business if something comes up,” he said, noting he was injured in a crash when he was a child.
Council member Gene Wayne Taylor agreed with the need to add shoulders to the causeway for safety reasons.
“The noisy wheel gets the grease — and more than Garry needs to be in the noisy wheel,” he said, adding, “It’s too busy of a road to not have shoulders.”
The two-lane causeway, which lacks shoulders in many areas, is the only way vehicles can travel to and from Chincoteague.
Council member Denise Bowden asked Director of Emergency Services Bryan Rush to provide the council with crash data for the Chincoteague causeway for the past six years, which Rush said he will do.
As emergency medical personnel, Bowden said she and others “have seen what can happen at any time, day or night, any season or anything like that, over there.”
Bowden called the causeway “one of the most dangerous stretches of road on the Eastern Shore,” adding, “and it leads to one of the most popular places on the Eastern Shore.”
Traffic increases every year, she said, adding, “I feel like VDOT drops the ball on us. I don’t feel like the state does its part in making sure that causeway is safe.”
Bowden called for council to “make a firm suggestion to VDOT to, one, push for cameras on the causeway, coming and going; two, have signage put up that tells people to maintain their speed — that is a big issue, too; three, to suggest that they find the money to put shoulders on the causeway.”
Bowden said that after 11-year-old Chance Holsten died in a crash on the causeway in August 2007 “there was a big push by the council then to try to get VDOT to advocate for causeway shoulders — and it got turned down.”
She noted several more crashes have happened since then on the causeway.
Adding shoulders, while it would not prevent all crashes, “would give somebody a fighting chance when you’re trying to get out of the way of a car coming towards you,” as well as giving police a better opportunity to pull people over and giving ambulances a chance to get around cars ahead of them, Bowden said, adding, “Garry is so right.”
“You are 18 inches away from death every time you cross it; you’ve got to be careful,” Bowden said, recounting a recent incident in which a vehicle leaving Chincoteague was going 115 miles per hour on the causeway.
Cameras could help law enforcement in such cases, she said.
“It’s getting more and more traffic, more and more dangerous, and we’re sitting here waiting for the next event to happen,” Bowden said.
“It’s up to us as council to really push this,” said Council member Jay Savage.
The council also asked Town Manager Mike Tolbert to request VDOT to make changes to the traffic signal coming off the bridge onto the island at Main Street to improve traffic flow.
Town Manager Reports on Water Supply, Rentals at Former Fire Station
Tolbert told the council that, with a new filtration plant for the town water supply online, tests show no detection or detection of under one part per trillion of PFOA or PFOS, two substances the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency directed NASA Wallops Flight Facility to test for.
Water testing will be ongoing while the plant is in operation.
Chincoteague Island Community Cats, a nonprofit organization, has agreed to rent the front office area in the former Chincoteague firehouse on Main Street, Tolbert said.
Additionally, a veterinarian has committed to rent the adjacent office space to be used as a small animal veterinarian’s clinic.
The Kiwanis Club potentially is interested in renting part of the first floor of the old town garage building, Tolbert said, adding the town has given them a rate which club members will discuss at the next meeting.
Staff are continuing to develop plans to use nearly $3 million in federal pandemic recovery funds Chincoteague is set to receive as result of the American Rescue Plan Act. The town has not yet received the funds, which will come through the state.
“We are continuing to prepare recommendations for responsibly spending down this award and welcome suggestions from the council as well as the public,” Tolbert said in his written report.
Bowden recommended the council hold a meeting to request public comment on use of the funds.
The town issued 52 building permits last month, with total construction value of just over $1 million.
The town received word May 26 that the Virginia Port Authority awarded Chincoteague $126,371, the total amount requested, to replace one of two remaining wooden finger piers with a floating pier at the Curtis Merritt Harbor. The town will contribute $42,124 in matching funds to the project. Construction should begin this fall, according to Tolbert.
Public Works Director Harvey Spurlock reported all but one piece of playground equipment at the new Brianna’s Kindness Park has been installed.
Once the final piece of equipment arrives and is installed, stone and mulch will be added.
The council also unanimously approved an updated emergency operations plan for the town.
The plan must be reviewed and resubmitted every four years and must be readopted by the council. Pandemic planning has been added to the plan, Rush said.