Updated/corrected: Oct. 23; 2:32 p.m.
By Connie Leinbach
If the state General Assembly cannot get replacement ferry costs from a different funding stream in the state budget than is the current formula, a toll on the Hatteras Ferry to Ocracoke may be in the future, is the word from the Albemarle Regional Planning Organization (ARPO).
Lloyd Griffin, a county commissioner in Pasquotank County and who is chair of this transportation planning group, said in an interview Thursday that the planning group on Wednesday talked about ferries in a three-hour meeting and decided to again give the General Assembly another chance when they convene in April for the “short session.”
He confirmed that the agenda, while it had not contained a resolution to toll the Hatteras ferry as of yesterday, was amended during the meeting when the members voted 6 to 2 to add the resolution to it.
However, Griffin said no vote was taken on the resolution to toll the Hatteras Ferry.
“We did not vote on the motion but had a consensus to give Legislators the opportunity to correct it,” Griffin said. “In January, we will talk more.”
The resolution will be on the Jan. 21 meeting agenda as old business, said Angela Welsh, planning director/RPO coordinator of the Albemarle Commission.
Griffin said that the Legislative calendar will be set in March, at which time people will know if the Legislators will take up this issue in the short session.
“If it’s not on the calendar, then we will talk about it,” Griffin said. “They’ve had two years to do this and there are questions about the real merits of the Legislature being able to do this,”
Griffin reiterated that the Albemarle RPO has $32 million in its state allotment for all transportation needs for the 10 counties in its purview.
“A big chunk of that goes to the ferry system,” he said. “We would be taking the money (for ferry replacement) from other counties to support tourism so people could ride for free.”
Wally Overman, a Dare County commissioner who made the motion Monday night to support tolling the Hatteras Ferry, said he took the action based on the presentation made that night by Jed Dixon, deputy Ferry Division director.
“We felt on the basis from the information given at the meeting that it made economic sense for the region,” Overman said about their vote. “Additionally, it was our understanding that Hyde County themselves could set the commuter rate at whatever they wanted and this would include both the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter routes.”
He said they had heard that the subject had been on the ARPO agenda, then off again.
“We wanted to provide direction to our representatives (on the RPO) that if the vote came up, Dare was in favor of it,” he said.
The Ferry Division is struggling for money, said Robert Woodard, chair of the Dare County Board of Commissioners.
“This is a small amount to keep the ferry system going,” Woodard told the Island Free Press. “We felt it was fair.”
Dare County’s agenda included “discussion of ferry tolling” as an item. Both the agenda and a video recording of the meeting are available online. The ferry discussion begins about 94 minutes into the video. For access, click here.
Ferry Division Information Officer Tim Hass had said Tuesday that Dare County had asked for the presentation.
Prior to these meetings, Hyde County Manager Bill Rich had alerted the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association on Oct. 14 that tolling the free Hatteras car ferry (in concert with a possible tolled passenger ferry) was again under consideration by the Ferry Division. He also suggested that before a toll is imposed by the state that Ocracoke might agree to a commuter pass of, say $75, that would include all three island ferries.
At a meeting Monday (Oct. 19) to talk about ferries (which State Rep. Paul Tine and Goodwin attended), Ed Goodwin, Ferry Division director, reiterated the need for revenue to pay for replacing aging ferries, two of which are 52 years old. He said that Legislators have said they’d work on getting ferry replacement funds out of the RPO pot of money, but that hasn’t happened yet. He did not mention that the Dare County commissioners would discuss ferry tolling later that night.
Since Gov. Pat McCrory’s election, the state has revamped how it doles out transportation money and put decisions to enact tolls into the hands of local folks who are part of the ARPO, which includes 10 counties in eastern North Carolina.
A complicated funding procedure McCrory devised and called the Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) divided the state into 10 regions, all of whom were given $32 million with which to fund bridges, trains, airports, roads, bike and pedestrian projects and ferry replacement on a competitive basis. Some of the regions overlap, further complicating the funding process.
Prior to STI, ferry replacements were done by an appropriation from the Legislature.
Since a new car ferry costs $12 to $15 million—which would be half of the RPO allotment—that would take away from other much-needed projects. Even taking out $5 million a year to build up a ferry replacement fund is at question.
Tine (U-Kitty Hawk) had said at the Oct. 19 meeting that he and other legislators will work on getting ferry replacement funding out of the RPOs’ pots of money when the lawmakers reconvene in the spring.
“The House version of the budget had replacement money for ferries taken out of STI,” Tine had said, but the final budget, a compromise between both houses and which was recently passed, put it back in.
“The money is there (in the state budget for ferry replacement),” Tine said. “The problem is getting the Senate to agree. We need to remove it out of the Division (RPO), or at least put it into the regional pot of money.”
A copy of the proposed resolution is below. This has not passed.
The Island Free Press contributed to this story.