The unofficial start to summer sent tourists heading to the beach over the Memorial Day weekend, but drivers attempting to cut through one North Carolina neighborhood discovered they had to now fork over some cash after residents of a private street turned it into a toll road.
The road, Cedar Avenue, provides a bypass to Highway 210 to the popular oceanside spot of Surf City and has grown more popular over the years by vacationers who want to skip traffic backups.
"Over the years as the area has grown, traffic has gotten worse, and so people have found a cut through in our neighborhood to the beach from Highway 210 to Highway 50," resident Debbi Long told WECT. "You bypass all the stoplights, traffic and waiting."
The road is not a publicly maintained road, but instead is owned by the Cedar Landing and Creek Estates Subdivision, which means that residents who are part of the neighborhood road maintenance organization are stuck with the bill for repairs on the street. The roadway is littered with potholes and eventually becomes a dirt road.
“The volume of traffic has gotten so bad that for us to maintain it with the meager funds we have, it’s just almost impossible now," resident Roy Ward told WWAY.
Residents decided it was eventually time to take action, and held an emergency meeting before Memorial Day weekend, where it was decided they should charge $5 for anyone who wanted to use the road over the holiday weekend. The checkpoints were open on Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Pender County Sheriff’s Office told the Port City Daily the toll was legal, because Cedar Avenue is a private road and there "are no laws that we know of that prohibit an owner of private property from charging for the use of that property."
Residents along Cedar Avenue were given stickers to prove they lived there, and the tolls were not impeding residential traffic, so the county attorney told police the toll was not in violation of state law, according to the Port City Daily. The road maintenance organization, however, could face issues if someone files a lawsuit in civil court, according to the newspaper.
The sheriff's office added that if there was "any unrest" at the toll checkpoints, they would respond to "keep the peace."
Neighbors told WECT they made $800 over the weekend from the tolls, but not without some issues. Residents had to call 911 seven times over the weekend to remove drivers who refused to pay or drove through the toll checkpoints without stopping.
In one case, a driver refused to stop at a checkpoint and hit a toll volunteer and another volunteer's vehicle, John Conerly told the television station. The driver was detained, questioned, and then released by police, according to Conerly. No injuries or major damage was reported as a result of that incident.
"This is the type of safety issue we desperately need state help with before someone is hurt, or worse," he told WECT.
The group said overall the tolls did the job to reduce the impact of cars on the private road over a busy time for vacationers, according to WWAY. It is not clear if they plan to continue the tolling for the remainder of the summer season.