By Connie Leinbach
Editor’s note: The regular monthly meeting Nov. 9 with NC Ferry Division officials has been canceled and may be rescheduled to later in the month.
Warren Judge, a Dare County commissioner, apologized to Hyde County
Monday night for voting to approve the concept of tolling the Hatteras ferry.
“I own the vote,” Judge told the commissioners in person when he attended the Commissioners meeting, Nov. 2 in Swan Quarter about the action that body took Oct. 19 unbeknownst to Hyde County officials.
The Hatteras ferry is still free, but in recent weeks there’s been movement afoot to again consider levying a toll on it.
“It was a mistake and if I have an opportunity to vote again, I will vote against tolls,” Judge said in an interview Thursday.
He said he is opposed to tolls and hadn’t been aware of Hyde County’s opposition to tolls when his board voted. From the presentation by Jed Dixon, deputy ferry division director, that night, Judge thought that a toll was inevitable and hence his vote.
This vote had been taken to give the Dare representatives on the Albemarle Regional Planning Organization (ARPO) direction should this matter come up at the ARPO meeting, said Wally Overman, vice-chair of the Dare board, in an interview on Oct. 20.
Since 2013, the state tossed the matter of tolling ferries (to fund replacement boats) to local planning agencies. Hyde County is a member of the ARPO.
Hyde County Manager Bill Rich said Thursday he is scheduled to speak at the Nov. 16 Dare County commissioners’ meeting to “respectfully request they revisit their vote and rescind it.”
Rich said the Dare commissioners sent the wrong message with their vote.
“It’s non-productive for northeast North Carolina,” he said.
Rich, who is a member of the Transportation Coordinating Committee (TCC) which advises the ARPO, had reported after last week that this group agreed to table the tolling issue and wait to see if state representatives John Torbett (R-Gaston) and Paul Tine (Unaffiliated-Kitty Hawk) could get the funding for ferry replacement out of the local pot of money.
Since all of these meetings, Rich said he wrote a letter explaining the situation and sent it to the ARPO, Gov. Pat McCrory, Tine and Torbett.
“They jumped all over it,” Rich said on Thursday. “I got responses from all of them and they were all positive.” He also sent his letter to the Dare County commissioners.
Torbett in an interview Thursday said he met Wednesday with Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin and Malcolm Fearing, who is the Dare representative on the DOT Board of Transportation, which oversees the DOT.
“I told them my intent to get vessel replacement out of ARPO and get it into the main transportation budget,” he said. “And they (Goodwin and Fearing) did agree with that.”
Replacing a ferry is the same as replacing a dump truck, he said.
Torbett, who is a co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee Transportation with Tine, said he and Tine will work on this scenario.
“I may have a solution ready to go when session opens in April,” he said. “Then all this talk will end,” he said about tolling. “We don’t intend to apply a hardship on North Carolinians.”
Judge also said the matter of tolling is about equity statewide.
“I don’t know how they rationalize that the ferry is any different from a bridge,” he said. “If the Legislature decides to toll roads, bridges and ferries, then I’m OK with it as long as it’s equitable.”
While NC DOT Ferry Division officials have talked the last several months during their monthly community meetings with islanders about the addition of passenger ferries to the car ferries, the subject of tolling the still-free Hatteras ferry has not come up.
Goodwin has mentioned several times how much more it is costing the ferry division to run ferries in the long route between the islands– about $2 million more a year–since heavy shoaling closed the traditional short route. He also reiterated the need for revenue to pay for replacing aging ferries, two of which are 52 years old.
Right now, the cost of replacing car ferries (at about $15 million each) is included in the $32 million pot of money the state gives to each of 10 regional planning organizations to finance all transportation needs in the respective districts.
This new method, created by Gov. Pat McCrory in 2013, is called the Strategic Transportation Investments (STI). Prior to that, ferry replacement was funded through appropriations by the General Assembly.