MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The creeping parade of lights gathers in the dark before Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune’s main gate every morning pending its long procession down Holcomb Boulevard. If an accident occurs, the procession slows to the familiar slinky of starts and stops as drivers jockey for a clear route around disabled vehicles.
Traffic is a daily fact of life for the service members and civilian personnel that work aboard MCB Camp Lejeune, just one of the many sacrifices they make in the name of security. Each vehicle must negotiate its way through the security personnel that protect the entrances feeding into the base. Holcomb Boulevard is the main artery.
More than 50,000 vehicles pass through the front gate on a daily basis, with the peak hours falling between 6:30 to 8 a.m. and 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., said Ronald Sarmento, the deputy safety director for Marine Corps Installations East – MCB Camp Lejeune. Those are also the primary times for fender benders, vehicle mishaps and violations of traffic safety rules.
“I think it’s aggressive driving,” said Sarmento. “Drivers are still in the mindset that there is a short cut or that they can cut time off their commute because they know a secret to bypass traffic. That’s not the issue. I think the biggest problem we have is driver aggression in the morning, trying to cut in between vehicles and trying to cut into lanes at the last minute, which creates (additional) hazards with trailing vehicles.”
The only way to beat traffic is to plan accordingly, said Sarmento. Drivers have to leave earlier if they don’t want to get stuck in the peak traffic hours. There are only so many entrances to the base and Holcomb is going to experience heavy traffic. Following the proper procedures is one of the only ways to improve commute times.
“A lot of people are under the old mindset that if you are involved in a mishap or a fender bender you stop and don’t move your car,” said Sarmento. “If you are involved in an accident and your vehicle is capable, pull off to the side of the road. You create more of a hazard with people ‘rubbernecking’ and backing up traffic.”
The shoulders are capable of supporting almost any vehicle that needs to pull off Holcomb, said Sarmento. Signs will go up on Holcomb in the near future making it clear that vehicles cannot obstruct traffic after a minor collision or breakdown. Pulling out of traffic after a minor accident is actually a North Carolina state law and MCB Camp Lejeune mirrors most state laws, so drivers remain clear about regulations on base and out in town.
Broken down vehicles are a common sight along MCB Camp Lejeune’s main artery. Reporting collisions and breakdowns are the responsibility of the drivers, said Sarmento. That includes the removal of broken down vehicles, which will be towed to the base impound lot if not retrieved by their owners. While owners of towed vehicles do not have to pay a storage fee for the base impound, they will, however, have to pay for the tow truck that removes their vehicle.
Since the start of 2012, MCB Camp Lejeune has recorded a total of 689 vehicle accidents, 47 resulting in injuries. The Provost Marshal’s Office also issued 1,334 citations for speeding and nearly 500 additional citations for seatbelt and cell phone violations.
Despite what many people think, Sarmento said, using the speakerphone function is not considered a hands-free device. What is more, since statistics are showing a danger even with hands-free devices, some North Carolina lawmakers are talking about making them illegal as well while driving.
For the most part, the flow of traffic aboard MCB Camp Lejeune is running normally, said Sarmento. Additions to Holcomb in the form of cut-outs, which increase the length of turning lanes, can already be seen along the road. These will help prevent traffic congestion caused by drivers attempting to turn off of Holcomb.
Traffic congestion increased considerably after 9/11, when force protection efforts increased security at the front gate.
“The main gate is not designed to increase the flow of traffic,” said Sarmento. “The initial concept was not to increase the traffic flow, but to (improve) force protection because the original front gate was too close to the main road.”
While the commute down Holcomb has improved since 9/11, heavy traffic is just a reality faced along the base’s main causeways, said Sarmento.
The service members and civilian personnel entering the base are engaged in efforts to maintain and improve the security of the nation. Vehicles in base traffic should not be seen as obstacles or objects of contention, said Sarmento. They are people with a common mission.
“That’s the bottom line: Security of the base,” said Sarmento. “It’s a safe base that you work at and the military and civilian personnel that are in traffic are here to support the military.”
Drivers are required to report all collisions to the base Provost Marshal’s Office, including collision with animals. To report a non-injury collision, call 451-3004/3005. Call 9-1-1 in case of injury or emergency.