Hatteras ferryBy Connie Leinbach

An effort to seek a toll on the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry is off the table for now, Hyde County manager Bill Rich confirmed today.

Wednesday night, at the monthly Ocracoke Civic and Business Association meeting, Rich had reported that the NC Ferry Division would ask the Albemarle Regional Planning Organization (RPO) to approve tolling visitors on the Hatteras Ferry.

Following two days of phone calls between Rich, NC Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin, state representatives and others, Goodwin “pulled the plug” because Hyde County didn’t want it, Rich said.

So, this will not be on the agenda at the Wednesday RPO meeting, he said, adding that Goodwin said he can “only do so much with the $37 million” Ferry Division portion of the NC Department of Transportation’s budget.

The RPO is one of 10 in the state that receive a pot of money from state coffers to pay for all transportation needs, including ferry replacement, in District 1, which comprises 11 counties including Hyde.

Earlier today, in a phone interview about his quest, Goodwin said that a toll on the Hatteras ferry for tourists is the only way to raise enough revenue to replace aging ferries, some of which are 52 years old.

“I’m trying to survive and provide service for Ocracoke,” he said about the move. “In 2013, they  [The General Assemby] said they would fix it,” he said referring to the current law that has ferry replacement money coming from the annual allotments to the RPOs. “They said that in 2014 and 2015, and it hasn’t happened. What can I do?”

Rich said that State Rep. John A. Torbett (R-Gaston) and the lobbyist team hired by Hyde County—McClees Consulting—have said the General Assembly will work on alternative funding for ferry replacement in the short legislative session that begins in April.

In the horse trading that went on this summer over the budget, Torbett said he was guaranteed
that in the next session, ferry replacement funds would be removed from the purview of the RPOs.

Torbett, when contacted Thursday, said that Ocracoke citizens need to stand up to this request, and that he is working on removing all tolls from North Carolina ferries.

“There is no rush to do anything; there is no rush to toll,” said Torbett, who is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Transportation. “No one in the General Assembly is talking about ferries. It’s status quo. Ferries are moving bridges and they should get the same treatment as highways.”

He said he and Rep. Paul Tine (U-Kitty Hawk) strove unsuccessfully in the summer budget negotiations to include language in the budget that would have gotten rid of all tolls.

Tine is expected to attend the monthly meeting with Ferry Division officials at 1 p.m. Monday (Oct. 19) in the Ocracoke Community Center. The public is welcome to attend.

Rich said the island needs to contnue to talk about passenger ferries because they should not be tied to the toll issue.

While Goodwin and Jed Dixon, deputy director, have attended monthly meetings here to discuss all things ferries, the topic of ferry tolls has not come up in recent months.

Tim Hass, Ferry Division information officer, said in an email Friday that of the 22 ferries in the fleet, nine are 25 years old or older, and two are 50+ years of age.

He said that under current law, the Ferry Division raises money for new ferries in one of three ways:

  1. Revenue through tolling and other means (advertising, etc.)
  2. Appropriation of Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) money from RPOs
  3. Cost savings through reductions in service

“That’s the law that exists,” he said in an email. “The Ferry Division cannot base its operations on what might occur in the next session or future sessions.”

Torbett stressed that the budget document does not contain any new language on tolling.

“The law is no different from what it was,” Torbett said.

He also said that the General Assembly, by general statute, told Goodwin to seek alternative sources of funding (which could be sponsorships, advertising or concessions) for ferry replacement.

But Goodwin said he has gotten no response from the request-for-proposals the division promulgated for ferry sponsorship.

“I’m trying to find a solution to see if it’s acceptable (to Ocracoke),” he said. “But if no one is satisfied then what do I do? Cut services division-wide?”

Goodwin has been seeking to add one or two passenger ferries from Hatteras to Silver Lake, each of which would cost about $ 2 million to build instead of about $15 million for a car ferry.

A $7 million grant recently approved for this project from Eastern Federal Lands would include the building of one boat, as well as island infrastructure, Deputy Ferry Division Director Jed Dixon had reported at the October monthly meeting.

This federal grant also would include purchase of an open-air tram to shuttle visitors around the village. 

A complicated funding procedure devised in 2013 by Gov. Pat McCrory and called the Strategic Transportation Investments divided the state into 10 regions (RPOs) all of whom were given $32 million with which to fund bridges, trains, airports, roads, bike and pedestrian projects and ferry replacement. Prior to this initiative, ferry replacements were done by an appropriation from the Legislature.

(Peter Vankevich contributed to this article)

The magic of Ocracoke begins on the ferry ride to the island. Photo by C. Leinbach
The magic of Ocracoke begins on the ferry ride to the island. Photo by C. Leinbach
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  1. I confess to being perplexed by the rapid oscillations in this policy. I suppose it lingers that, should the RPO vote “no” or not vote on this issue, control returns to Raleigh. And this is the case as the RPO has been relieved of responsibility.
    We’re still flying B-52s so I presume age can to a large extent be offset by maintenance. Obsolete design would be a different matter.
    We’ve not seen the end of this hot potato.
    Is politics fun, or what? I choose what.

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