On the Hatteras-Ocracoke highway, which is our ferry route and a continuation of N.C. 12 South. Photo: C. Leinbach/Ocracoke Observer

Why must Ocracoke continually have to worry about and fight for adequate funding for the ferries that are the island’s lifeline?

The ferry service is an extension of the historic N.C. 12 and should be thought of as any of the roads throughout the state and should be funded according to what the NC Ferry Division needs.

Should folks in the western part of the state worry about adequate funding for the removal of snow or rocks on their roads?

When I-40 gets a landslide, the NC DOT quickly clears the boulders.

Bridges and roads throughout the state wash out from flooding and get immediate repair.  Roads all over the country undergo roadwork.

Ocracoke does not have traffic lights, bridges and underpasses that require state maintenance. Okay, we do have sand removal operations after big blows and sometimes road reconstruction on NC 12 after major storms.

Reducing ferry service to Ocracoke is tantamount to cutting out a lane on one of the Raleigh beltways. Would Triangle residents be OK with that?

Why can’t our ferries be viewed as part of our state road infrastructure?

When islanders learned this spring that the passenger ferry would be delayed due to the depletion of the Ferry Division’s fuel budget and that the schedule for the vehicle ferries would remain at the (reduced) winter levels, the community raised a hue and cry.

The Ocracoke Civic & Business Association’s (OCBA) May 16 meeting was devoted to ferry issues and we were pleased that several Ferry Division and Hyde County officials attended in person to answer questions posed by some in the large audience of about 60 islanders.

Ferry Division Director Harold Thomas announced that the Ferry Division took out a $2 million loan against next year’s budget to cover the passenger ferry service, which would begin on May 23 and vehicle ferry service “would be expanded.”

“Having dependable ferry service is vital to your businesses,” Thomas told the crowd.

The passenger ferry began, but an expanded schedule was much less than hoped for.

The day the passenger ferry began service, a Ferry Division spokesman said to supplement the hourly departures, an additional shuttle ferry would begin running when there are long lines in the stacking lanes at the Hatteras terminal.

Long lines are most of the day at this time of the year and continue well into early fall.

So, the inadequate winter schedule (ferries basically on the hour) is what we have for now, and the Division’s website was recently updated showing that this reduced schedule will run through Dec. 31.

This schedule may change again with more runs depending on the approved 2024 state budget, scheduled to begin on July 1.

Where does that leave Ocracoke?  Still wringing our hands.

Why is funding the ferries, particularly the Hatteras-Ocracoke route, always such a hassle?

The NCDOT overall budget is $5 billion and $58.5 million was authorized for the Ferry Division in fiscal 2023, or about 1% of the entire NCDOT budget.

For many North Carolinians, Ocracoke is a popular destination to get away from their daily often hectic lives.

Fishing, spending time on the world’s No. 1 beach (ranked twice by Dr. Beach) and surfing are some of the reasons for the island’s popularity, yielding a major source of tourism revenue for the state.

A 2020 study by the Institute for Transportation & Research Education at NC State University said the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry route alone generates $19 million per year in tax revenue to state and local governments. 

Bob Chestnut, president of the OCBA, said the economic impact of the ferries to North Carolina is $732 million and 66% of that is from Ocracoke.

According to the Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, the new revenue forecast projects a $3.25 billion surplus. That’s quite a rainy-day fund.

With this lavish amount of cash on hand, no doubt the envy of many governments, why can’t the Ferry Division be adequately funded?

We need a reliable and efficient ferry service. It is a vital part of North Carolina’s highway system.

The NC Ferry Division cannot lobby, but we can.

North Carolinians stuck in line at the Hatteras terminal reading this editorial should contact their General Assembly representatives and let them know we need better ferry service.

Islanders are doing the same.

Contact info for NC representatives who will hammer out the 2023-2024 state budget are below:

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