Saturday, April 17, 2010

Options for Refuge Parking/Transportation Plans

CHINCOTEAGUE -- Interest in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Altern-ative Transportation Study proved to be high last week when it was unveiled before a large crowd at the Chinco-teague Center.

The study was released to the public last Tuesday night to a crowd estimated at about 500.

Refuge Manager Lou Hinds and Michael Dyer of Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, the organization that prepared the plan, unveiled the main options in it.

Hinds reminded those present that it was just a study. "No decisions are in this document," he said.

Dyer presented the options available in the study. It revolves around four main plans:

  • Alternative 1 --No action or status pro plus.

  • Alternative 2 --Retention of all parking capacity at the beach.

  • Alternative 3 --Partial relocation of beach parking capacity.

  • Alternative 4 --Elimination and relocation of all beach parking capacity.

    Alternative 1 has no new transportation solutions, but does mention ongoing plans to develop a better bike path from the Assateague Channel Bridge to the traffic circle where the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce is located.

    Alternative 2 involves the retention of all beach parking that presently exists, about 960 parking spaces. This option is a low-cost solution that lays the groundwork for large-scale investments in the future. But it assumes a high cost to maintain parking on the beach.

    Alternative 3 reduces the number of beach parking spaces and incorporates a system to transport beach visitors from offsite parking to the beach area. It also incorporates a reconfiguration of the Assateague Channel Bridge from a two-lane structure to a three-lane structure and the addition of a bicycle-foot bridge.

    Alternative 3 would extend the bike path all the way down Maddox Boulevard to Main Street. It would add sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian signals to the major roads on Chincoteague. This plan would expand equipment concessions at the beach, increase message boards and generally have high capital costs for some of the proposals.

    Alternative 3 requires satellite parking lots, probably located on Chincoteague.

    Alternative 4 has the complete elimination of parking on the beach. A new parking garage would be constructed, probably on Chinco-teague, and a shuttle system would take visitors to the beach area.

    This option involves the purchase of a new fleet of "purpose-built" transit vehicles and have bicycle lanes on Route 175 and Maddox Boulevard. There would be no widening of the Assateague Channel Bridge with the alternative.

    Of all the alternatives, Alternative 4 raised the most ire from the crowd. One member of the audience said, "Alternative 4 would be the death blow to Chincoteague." Most of the crowd applauded that statement.

    Hinds, Dyer and Trish Kicklighter, superintendent of Assateague Island National Seashore, answered questions from the audience after the four plans had been described.

    Hinds said the a new alternative parking plan must be adopted within the next two years.

    "Please read the document in its entirety," Hinds implored. "I can't do this without you. Right now we don't have a plan of action."

    Hinds told the crowd that sea level rise has had an impact on Assateague, and could have more of an impact in the future. He gave an example of a marker that he took a picture of on Assateague two years ago that was once 157 paces from the water line. Today the site of the marker is under water and about five feet of sand that used to be there is now gone.

    Kicklighter stated that about $200,000 is reserved each year for beach parking and lifeguards out of the funds raised for entrance fees. However, she estimated that up to $600,000 has been spent on Assateague parking with all the storms that hit the island this winter.

    The Volpe Team met with local people in a series of meetings last year to get their input into the study.

    The whole study with appendices is available on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Web site. There also is a place on the site to make a comment and Hinds urged everyone interested to make a comment, either on the site or in a letter.

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