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There was a lot of positive excitement back in early 2016 when the North Carolina Department of Transportation implemented a “Dynamic Message Sign” at the north end of Ocracoke village heading to the Hatters Inlet ferry terminal.
The sign provided alerts primarily for ferry delays and road-related issues, though has also been used for rip current and Amber alerts.
A frequent complaint for islanders and travelers over the years had been driving the 12 miles to the Hatteras Inlet ferry, called the South Dock, only to learn that ferries were not running, usually due to fog, high winds or mechanical breakdowns.
This messaging sign has given heads-up about delays and it also provided good news such as an announcement that the ferry service is back up or the closed road on Hatteras Island had reopened.
This is an NCDOT sign controlled remotely by electronic technicians in New Bern who can provide quick updates. The sign is utilitarian and a bit ugly yet serves its purpose, especially during emergency conditions.
But, in the past year or so, it has frequently been dark and not providing updates. In late December, we contacted the Ferry Division and were informed that the sign went down on Dec.10 because the main control board failed; a replacement was on the way and would be installed as soon as it arrived. “Barring any other problems, I anticipate repairs to be complete by Jan. 4,” said the email communication.
Alas, the sign is still dark, and it would have been particularly helpful on Sunday (March 24) when Highway 12 in Frisco was closed all day for culvert repair and the only way to get north was by a detour onto the beach that required 4-wheel drive vehicles.
On Tuesday, a sustained March wind led to ferry delays and cancellations and the winds will carry into Wednesday that could cause more disruptions, a not infrequent occurrence considering where we live.
We need this sign to be operable. Not everyone is on social media to receive alerts or knows to call 252-996-6000 to see if a Hatteras Inlet ferry is running.
The Observer will contact NCDOT again as should others. This is also an important issue in which one or more of our elected officials could help the island by doing some good old-fashioned pothole constituent work. Any takers?