What’s the deal with the gate at the entrance to the stacking lanes at the ferry landings?
It seems like it’s always up, never down.
But the gate is just one component of the scene at Avenue A and Cut-off Road, where traffic problems are common for motorists trying to get into the stacking lanes to leave Port Aransas during busy summer weekends.
A big part of the problem reportedly lies largely with drivers not obeying signs that direct them to access the outbound ferries via the northbound center turn lane on Cut-off Road.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in February basically wrapped up an approximately $9 million improvement project that put new stacking lanes on Mustang Island and expanded the stacking lanes and park-and-ride facilities on Harbor Island.
The South Jetty recently contacted TxDOT to ask whether the gate is operating, and if not, why not, and whether it will be used in the future.
TxDOT spokesman Rickey Dailey responded.
“At the completion of the stacking lanes project, the traffic gate arms were operational and they remain operational,” Dailey wrote in an email to the South Jetty.
“However, the gate arms are now in the upright, or open, position. This is due to drivers racing to beat the closing gate arms and barely missing striking the arms and other drivers making a right turn from SH 361 (Cut-off Road) to the stacking lanes which causes the closing arms to reopen which then interferes with traffic light sequencing at the intersection.”
Dailey also wrote: “The Texas Department of Transportation has no objection to allowing the gate arms to remain in the open position, if city officials agree.”
The Port Aransas Police Department has the duty of handling traffic problems on city streets, so the South Jetty asked Chief Scott Burroughs for his reaction to Dailey’s comments.
“We have to be pragmatic and understand that we just can’t get a 10-pound ham into a five-pound stack. No matter what we do, there are going to be times where the number of cars exceed the capacity of the ferry system,” Burroughs wrote in an email to the South Jetty.
“With that said, we were told that the stacking lane design principle is based on the gate operating properly. It is supposed to regulate the traffic flow by syncing with the traffic light to open only when traffic is turning left from the center lane northbound Cut-off (Road) to enter the stacking lane and remaining closed when Avenue A or southbound Cut-off is green, to prohibit traffic from entering from those streets,” Burroughs wrote.
“If the gate remains open it just allows for unfettered access to the stacking lanes from every direction which contributes to the congestion and traffic blocking the intersection,” the chief wrote. “If we can keep the ferry traffic off of southbound Cut-off and off of Avenue A, it may not help the wait times, but it would mitigate congestion around the intersection and equalize the wait times by disincentivizing people to effectively ‘cut in line’ by coming up Avenue A or Cotter (Avenue).”
And so, Burroughs said, proper operation of the stacking lane gate is contingent on traffic not entering from southbound Cut-off Road and/or West Avenue A.
That being the case, how can that traffic be regulated, and whose responsibility is it to regulate it?
“TxDOT and Port Aransas have a longstanding relationship of mutual cooperation. Without regard to who is legally responsible, our citizens and property owners will always look to the city to take the lead for traffic related issues,” Burroughs said.
“If the arm is functioning properly, it will regulate most of the traffic flow for the stacking lanes by preventing entry except from northbound Cut-off. Of course, there will always be a handful of entitled knuckleheads that don’t believe the laws apply to them, and they will try to circumvent the system causing traffic headaches for those that obey the law,” the chief said.
“There may be some solutions that will mitigate entry from non-designated points including more signage on Avenue A and Cotter and perhaps eliminating southbound traffic on Cut-off between Cotter and Avenue A – one-way traffic only,” Burroughs said.
“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the ferry users to know and use the only approved traffic pattern to the ferry stacking lanes, i.e. the center lane on northbound Cut-off,” Burroughs said. “Until the actual users accept their personal responsibility to follow the law, there will continue to be issues no matter what TxDOT or the city does.”
One other aspect of the stacking lanes project remains unresolved. That component has to do with the large concrete structures that hold overhead electronic signs designed to help direct traffic to open lanes in the stacking lanes and show which lanes aren’t in use.
Since casual observations indicated that the signs haven’t been fired up yet, the South Jetty asked Dailey whether they’re being used at all, and if not, why not.
“The manufacturer is awaiting delivery of electrical parts, which have been delayed due to parts shortage, to make the lane control units (lane light indicators) operational,” Dailey said. “As soon as the manufacturer receives the parts and completes the work to make the lane control units operational, they will be activated.”