February 19, 2013
New report says ferries still not an
option for access to Hatteras Island
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
high-speed ferry exists today that could safely carry millions of
vehicles a year across the heavily shoaled Oregon Inlet and Pamlico
Sound, according to a new transportation report released late last
And even if engineering a shallow-draft, high-capacity ferry were possible, it said, the cost would be prohibitive.
response to renewed public questions about a ferry alternative to the
Herbert C. Bonner Bridge replacement project, the Federal Highway
Administration and the state Department of Transportation took a new
look at the feasibility of using ferries rather than a bridge to carry
vehicles and people across Oregon Inlet.
“The problem is
two-fold,” said Ferry Division Deputy Director Jed Dixon. “Unless you
have a vessel that doesn’t displace water, like a hovercraft, the draft
is a major concern. Then there’s the environmentals and maintenance of
After Hurricane Irene in 2011 blew an inlet
through Pea Island, flattened dunes, and severely damaged the road at
the S-curves in northern Rodanthe, some environmental groups and
coastal scientists suggested that ferries could be a better long-term
solution than a bridge to providing access to Hatteras Island.
in reviewing available options and the cost involved, the report
concluded that ferries remain “an unreasonable transportation
alternative” for the island. And there is no high-speed ferry on the
horizon that could operate in shallow Outer Banks waterways.
up against a lot of challenges just running conventional ferries,”
Dixon said. “There would have to be a whole lot of money spent dredging
and maintaining that channel.”
Every year, a total of about 2
million vehicles cross Bonner Bridge, averaging about 5,400 per day,
said the report, which was signed on Jan. 31. As those who
regularly cross the bridge know, traffic, mostly from tourists,
increases vastly in the summer.
But the bridge, the only land
route to Hatteras Island, also provides critical year-round access to
the island for Outer Banks residents and for emergency personnel. It
also is vital for carrying supply and service trucks, as well as
telephone and electric wires across Oregon Inlet.
If a ferry
system operated between Bodie Island and Rodanthe, the range of the
Bonner project, about 420 acres would have to be dredged to create an
18-mile channel, removing about 10.8 million cubic yards of
material. About 38 river class ferries would be needed, twice the
number of vessels currently in use by the division.
costs to operate and maintain the system for 50 years at the current
traffic levels are estimated at $6.3 billion, substantially more than
any other option.
River class ferries cost $12 million each
and can travel at 12 mph. The vessels hold 38 vehicles and have a
4.5-foot to 5.5-foot draft, the report said, the shallowest of any
known standard ferry in operation. As it is, the channel depth
required is 10- to 12-feet, which has been nearly impossible to
maintain this winter in Oregon Inlet and Pamlico Sound.
and catamarans, which skim the top of water, can carry about 80
vehicles and travel up to 50 mph. The down side is there is no offsite
maintenance facility available, and the high speeds could be dangerous
in Outer Banks conditions.
Even if an air-cushion vessel could
be built specially for the Outer Banks, according to input from a
British representative of a hovercraft company, “It is doubtful that
custom-manufactured vessels would be cost effective, even taking into
account the amount of dredging required,” the report said.
not going to say that it’s impossible,” Dixon said, “but it’s going to
come with a huge expense. We would have to dig a whole new channel.”
high-speed ferries used successfully overseas for both passenger and
vehicular traffic have drafts that are too deep to operate here safely,
Dixon said. Channels routinely shift and shoal up, often in the course
“It’s not safe when you’re running that kind of
speed -- 40 knots," he said. “Because if it runs aground, you’re talking
major damage. It could potentially damage the hull.”
of ferries over Oregon Inlet was first considered in 1991 as part of
NCDOT’s feasibility study of bridge replacement options, and the study
was among the alternatives discussed in the project’s 1993 draft
environmental impact study. Ferry transport on a 3-mile route
across Oregon Inlet was then deemed impractical because of high cost,
decreased service, and increased natural impacts from dredging.
study of a ferry alternative was done in subsequent project reports,
with equally unsatisfactory results. Findings included an increase of
conflicts with other vessels; limited capability to transport traffic;
dramatic increase in hurricane evacuation times; loss of bird habitat
and negative impact on benthic life and fisheries; docking facilities
being located in a national seashore; instability of the channel;
difficulty transporting goods and services; the need to create an
alternate system for telephone and electric transmission; and isolation
of the Hatteras Island community.
Privately-run ferry service,
another suggestion from the public, would have to charge $126
round-trip to be profitable, the report said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
to read the 51-page report on using ferries for transportation to
Hatteras Island by the Federal Highway Administration and the N.C.
Department of Transportation.