Updated July 2, 2020, with tram service information.
By Peter Vankevich
Gov. Roy Cooper today signed a bill authorizing passenger ferry service between Hatteras and Ocracoke starting in July until Sept. 10. The measure was among 12 bills Cooper signed.
The North Carolina legislature on June 25 approved $1,146,179 to lease, pending completion of a successful route verification, a passenger ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke. Senate Bill 750, introduced by First District Sen. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan), passed unanimously, and was sent to Gov. Roy Cooper for signature, which Cooper did today. A launch date is pending.
The bill also includes $6 million for a new heating and air conditioning system and chiller at Elizabeth City State University.
Sixth District Rep. Bobby Hanig (R-Currituck) had introduced the ferry funding amendment in a House subcommittee.
The approval was a bit of a surprise because NCDOT announced on April 28 that it would not be funded this year “due to the impacts of COVID-19.”
Since the ferry is a go, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, NCDOT will need to determine how many passengers it can safely allow on the boat at a time and encourage people to wear masks and remain six feet from people they aren’t traveling with. Last year, this same boat accommodated up to 150 passengers.
In a joint statement, Hanig and Steinburg said, “We are pleased by the passage of the $1.2 million for the Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry. Under the best of circumstances, we know that the ferry has been successfully operational. We know that the ferry is critical to Ocracoke as the island has taken a multitude of gut punches, starting with Hurricane Dorian last September. We are hopeful that the operation of the ferry will be a good start to helping Ocracoke heal.”
The free village tram service that ran last summer in conjunction with the passenger ferry will again support the passenger ferry, said Joseph Ramunni, who manages the trams. They will run starting Friday, July 3, from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., he said, adding that zccording to current law, face masks will be required.
The Hyde County commissioners at their April 6 meeting approved the purchase of new trams. Last year, the NCDOT had purchased the trams and leased them to Hyde County for $1, said county attorney Franz Holscher. Now, the county will purchase the trams, thanks to a grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, but the county and NCDOT will pay equally for the yearly operating costs.
The passenger ferry was introduced in 2019 as a transportation alternative for people traveling between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands with the ferry going directly into Ocracoke village.
Last year, the Ferry Division leased the M/V Martha’s Vineyard ferry from Seastreak Marine out of New Jersey from late May to Labor Day. Reports confirm the same boat as last year will again serve Ocracoke.
More than 28,600 people used it last summer.
With passenger-only ferry in service, the waiting times for the vehicle ferry between the islands were significantly decreased according to Ferry Division statistics, especially by visitors traveling to Ocracoke for day trips.