IT'S OFFICIAL. The ferries are part of the NC highway system.
IT’S OFFICIAL. The ferries are part of the NC highway system.

Raleigh–Senators Bill Cook (R-District 1) and Norman W. Sanderson (R-District 2) on Wednesday filed Senate Bill 812 (Ferry Tolling/Replacement Funds) that would remove tolls on the three North Carolina ferry routes that have them now, and prohibits the N.C. Ferry Division from placing tolls on any of the other four routes in the future.

Cook’s district includes Ocracoke (Hyde, Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties) while Sanderson’s district includes Carteret, Pamlico and Craven counties.

According to a press release from Cook, the bill would appropriate the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Ferry Division with an additional $23,095,000 (an estimate from the Ferry Division) in recurring funds to be allocated for ferry vessel replacement.

“Even if all the ferry routes were tolled, at current levels, the resulting revenue would not go far in offsetting the significant cost of running and making capital improvements to the ferry system,” Cook said in the release. “I will continue to advocate for responsible alternatives to ferry tolling on behalf of the constituents in Senate District 1.”

The N.C. Ferry Division is the second largest state operated ferry system in the United States (after Washington), and consists of seven scheduled routes, one emergency route, 21 ferry vessels, 12 terminals, a state-owned shipyard and four field maintenance shops.

The roughly $23 million appropriation would be in addition to the approximately $40 million allocated each year for labor, fuel, materials and services.

Additionally, during the 2015 legislative session, through the budget, the General Assembly created a capital improvement account for the Ferry Division in the Highway Fund.  It allows the Division to benefit from services they perform, such as painting or sandblasting of boats in their Mann’s Harbor facility, a reflection of what Cook and Sanderson included in Senate Bill 113.

“My argument against ferry tolls remains the same as it always has been,” Sanderson said.  “(Ferries) are the highways for many of my constituents living on the coast.  They are an attractive draw for the many visitors traveling to our area and have helped keep tourism a top revenue producer for our coastal counties and state.  We will continue to do everything we can to build support for this commonsense solution.”

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