SPECIAL REPORT: Driving Nuts

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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Traffic near the causeway project is an issue on the minds of drivers and law enforcement.

Sometimes it is just congestion or a blocked lane for construction causing the delays. Sometimes it is an accident.

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Troopers said you need to add at least an hour to your commute if you get into an accident near the causeway, because unlike 20 years, an accident is now considered a criminal investigation.

The impatience for other drivers can lead to road rage detours or maybe even something that is not legal.

When the brake lights start, so does the road rage.

“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” driver Susan Stephens said.

Driver Eric Webb said sometimes it is the weather causing the delay or the road work, but he said an accident stops everything.

“You can have an accident on the opposite side of the four lanes and traffic will be backed up on the other side,” Webb said.

Stephens said it puts the whole road on hold.

“A good hour,” Stephens said.

Several drivers on the road said it causes drivers to do almost anything.

“People pass going down the side of the road, running through the grass,” Webb said.

“People kind of push people off to the side, pass on the right, and weave in and out,” Stephens said.

Gerri Henry said she is guilty of doing some of those illegal moves.

“I have done that and gotten a ticket behind it,” Henry said.

Henry said she got a moving violation, because of a personal emergency.

“The officer stopped me and said that either I should have actually turned where I turned at, but I rode the lane trying to get passed that traffic and I rode the lane down which it was a moving violation,” Henry said.

She is not the only one. First Sergeant Pope with The Highway Patrol said troopers gave out almost 1,500 citations for various things in 2015 in or around the construction zone. Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram said the violations usually come from road rage.

“People for whatever reason are impatient or frustrated and start doing things that are illegal or unsafe,” Ingram said.

Last week, Leland police said a man followed a car into a gas station and attacked that driver all because of a turn signal.

“It hasn’t gone that far before,” Leland Police Chief Mike James said. “You know you get people blowing horns and making gestures.”

While police are still investigating that case,  Ingram said the deputies he has sitting on the causeway are not out there to write citations.

“Our role is to be there to assist motorists when needed,  to be close in the area in the event of a wreck occurring, we can respond quickly.”

That is where things get complicated for everyone on the roads. While drivers have to wait, the time starts ticking for EMS and law enforcement.

“I know it’s not the popular opinion but sometimes the best decision is we’ve got to collect some evidence,” Pope said.

That means the wait time increases for all drivers on the road.

“The downside is, when we’re in the construction zone, we have no way to re-route what’s already in there,” Pope said.

That is why law enforcement agencies from across the county met this week to discuss this complaint from a driver.

It said in part:

“While the infrastructure improvement projects are outside our control, I wonder if there aren’t some more “operational” aspects related to delays and lane closures caused by first responders, bridge openings etc,” the driver said.  “Maybe that’s where we have not done as well in educating.”

“Maybe that’s where we have not done as well in educating,” Pope said.

Pope said while public safety officials continue trying to find quicker ways to re-route traffic, the public needs to understand what exactly their job entails.

“I think the public has to be a stakeholder with us,” Pope said.

He said the public should think about accidents in a different way. What if it were your family member involved in a wreck?

“While you want to get to work on time, I’d be late every day if it were my mother,” Pope said.

For now, patience has to be the key for drivers, for law enforcement and for the construction.

“I just wish they would fix this mess,” Stephens said.

“There’s just no other way to get into Wilmington over the Cape Fear River,” Webb said.

“I know we have to have patience and I feel like they are working diligently to get the area constructed which in the end it will benefit all of us, but it’s just a matter of when is it ever going to get finished?” Henry asked.

An NCDOT  engineer said the causeway project is on schedule and is set to be complete in November. The diverging diamond Interchange is set to be complete by the end of March or early April.

The NCDOT said the Brunswick river portion of the project is about a month behind and should be done in September.