January 4, 2012

Ferry tolls likely to increase in 2012

Hyde County Public Information

Ferry tolls will again become a hot-button topic for Hyde citizens and all ferry-riders in North Carolina as Department of Transportation officials explore ways to increase revenue.

Lucy Wallace, spokesperson for the NCDOT Ferry Division, said the division has been mandated by the General Assembly to increase revenue by $4.5 million through tolls. Public hearings on the matter are slated for early 2012, and the tolls are to be in place by April 1, 2012.

Currently it costs motorists $15 to take the two-plus-hour trip across the Pamlico Sound to and from Ocracoke.  There are two routes – one from Cedar Island and the other from Swan Quarter.
This issue was in the forefront this time last year, as DOT officials eyed the possibility of charging tolls for ferry services - even the free Hatteras -Ocracoke ferry.

Islanders, including Hyde County Commissioner Darlene Styron, didn't think they should be charged to leave the island because many goods and services are not available on Ocracoke. Styron said residents shouldn't be charged to go to the dentist. Ocracoke business owners feared that tourism would take a hit, too. "Day-trippers" vacationing on the northern Outer Banks may opt out of a ferry ride to Ocracoke if a fee was associated.
With this brought to light, the Hatteras ferry route was exempted from the 2011 legislation that requires ferry revenues be raised. Lawmakers cited the ferry route as the only transportation to Ocracoke Island. The Currituck-Knotts Island route was also exempt because kids take the ferry to school.
Greer Beaty, director of communications for the Department of Transportation, said after the ferry division was saddled with the required $4.5 million increase, DOT contracted a private company to conduct a study on ferries and the increase in tolls.

The study is almost completed, and Beaty said it will be released early 2012 -- likely in January. Detailed findings would be outlined during public hearings on the proposed tolls. She said dates had yet to be set for the meetings.
"We certainly want everyone to see the study and give their feedback,'' said Beaty.

The Star News of Wilmington reported the DOT consultant's study will offer "detailed insight" about how much ferry tolls should increase this year and came at a cost of $105,000 to taxpayers.
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