Tyrrell’s worst traffic jam delays thousands of motorists

Published 10:25 am Tuesday, July 28, 2020

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The worst traffic jam ever in Tyrrell County lasted from early Saturday afternoon, July 18, until about 7:15 p.m.

The eastbound lanes of U.S. 64 were blocked, with vehicles bumper to bumper, as thousands of tourists and others sought to get to the Outer Banks.

The likely causes of the blockage were (1) a heavy volume of beach-bound traffic on the season’s hottest weekend — the thermometer hit 94 in mid-afternoon — (2) the bottleneck of a 28-mile stretch of two-lane highway between Columbia and Manns Harbor, where the “slow man rules,” and (3) the Alligator River drawbridge astride the busy Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

But perhaps the biggest contributor was a five-vehicle collision on the Wright Memorial Bridge over Currituck Sound about 11 a.m. Saturday that closed the eastbound lanes for three hours and backed up traffic for 10 miles, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

The stoppage prompted many Outer Banks visitors from Tidewater Virginia and points north to try to reach the  sand and surf via the nearest alternative route — U.S. 64 through Columbia.

One westbound motorist reported that, at mid-afternoon,  she counted over 900 vehicles creeping beachward in the 18-mile section of U.S. 64 between Manns Harbor and the west end of Alligator River bridge.

The bumper-to-bumper backup continued through Columbia, where both eastbound lanes were clogged as far as Travis Road interchange (Exit 562), four miles west of the town and 35 miles from Manns Harbor.

No serious injuries were reported in the collision on the bridge, which Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie termed “a miracle.” The pile-up was described this way: a white pickup with large tires had run over the top of the back end of a sedan and hit the rear end of a sport utility vehicle. At least two other vehicles were caught in the accident.

No accidents were reported in Tyrrell County during the six-hour slowdown.

Heavy traffic volume and brisk gasoline sales were reported in Engelhard Saturday afternoon, indicating that some beach-goers may have chosen U.S. 264 as a second alternate route.

Some locals are hoping the July 18 event may convince political leaders to demand a four-lane road between Columbia and Manns Harbor, currently the only remaining two-lane section of U.S.64 between Nags Head and Raleigh.

The Alligator River drawspan was opened five times between one o’clock and 7 p.m. Saturday. The duration of an opening for a small boat is 6-7 minutes, with a tug and barge taking up to 12 minutes, the bridge tender explained.

As many as 2,000 vehicles could have been tied up in the traffic jam at any given moment Saturday