The Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry route is the busiest in the North Carolina ferry system. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Sam Walker, OBX Today. Reprinted by permission.

A recently introduced bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would allow the North Carolina Ferry System to become eligible for federal grants currently only available to ferry routes in urban areas.

Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) on Friday joined Congressman David Rouzer (NC-07) to introduce H.R. 6046, known as the Rural Ferries Fairness Act.

Co-sponsored by Congressman Greg Murphy (NC-03) and Congressman David Price (NC-04), H.R. 6046 would allow North Carolina ferries to compete for U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Section 5307 Ferry Grant funds by removing the urbanized requirement.

​North Carolina’s ferry system is the second largest state-run ferry system in the United States, with 21 routes, and serves 800,000 vehicles and 1.8 million passengers each year.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Passenger Ferry Grant program (49 U.S.C. 5307(h)) provides competitive funding for projects that support passenger ferry systems in urbanized areas. None of the ferries in North Carolina meet the urbanized qualification. This bill would remove the urbanized area requirement to allow North Carolina’s ferry system to compete for the DOT Passenger Ferry Grant program.

“North Carolina ferries are critical for those who live, work, and vacation in our coastal communities,” said Rouzer. “They also serve as a lifeline for evacuating thousands of people ahead of dangerous storms and hurricanes. As the second largest state-run ferry system in the country, there is no reason North Carolina should be excluded from competing for critical investments to improve ferry service, safety, and efficiency. I’m proud to introduce this legislation to establish parity for our ferry system so they can continue to meet our state’s transportation needs.”

Murphy concurred.

“While roads and bridges help connect our communities on land, ferries are the true maritime crossroads of our districts,” he said. “They help keep Eastern North Carolina connected, competitive, and intrinsically coastal. Without ferries, our constituents simply wouldn’t be able to enjoy all of North Carolina’s nautical environment and ecosystem. I am proud to support Rep. Rouzer’s legislation to remove excessive red tape and allow our North Carolina ferries to compete for much-needed grants that will bolster our economy.”

Price also noted the critical service ferries provide residents.

“Unfortunately, the North Carolina ferry system is unable to apply for the Department of Transportation (DOT) Passenger Ferry Grant Program due to their rural nature,” Price said. “These funds could help support existing passenger ferry services, establish new services, and modernize ferry boats and terminals.”

Butterfield said the North Carolina ferry system plays an integral role in helping commuters get to work and school and tourists to our world-renowned beaches and vacation destinations.

“For some North Carolina communities, ferries are as important as cars or trains and I am happy to help get federal grant funding to support this critical transportation infrastructure for our state,” he said.

“While urban ferry systems receive some federal support, North Carolina’s ferry system operates in rural communities and, as such, does not enjoy such support,” said State Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette. “As one of the nation’s largest public ferry operators, we are grateful to Congressmen Rouzer, Price, Butterfield and Murphy for exploring new federal funding opportunities that would better support the important role our state’s ferry system plays for the 1.6 million citizens each year who depend on this transportation lifeline to get to schools, jobs, appointments and tourist destinations.”

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Nov. 18. For more information on the bill and to keep tabs on future actions, click here.

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  1. I realize the bill has not been passed but it’s encouraging to know that we are on the radar at the federal level for this funding. I am extremely grateful to the congressman who have introduced this legislation which will ensure the funding of the vital economic link that our ferry system provides to Ocracoke Island. I believe this funding is as necessary as the federal funding for the dredging of our federally designated channels. We have reached an important milestone for our ferry division if this funding is realized. This is encouraging news for myself as a resident and Commissioner. Thank you for sharing this!

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