March 17, 2014

Ocracoke wins another round in ferry toll fight


Ocracoke Island has won round three in the ferry toll fight.

The Regional Planning Organization (RPO) of Division 1, which is overseen by the Albemarle Commission and which includes Hyde and Dare counties, did not vote on the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s request to enact tolls on the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry.

Bill Rich, Hyde County manager, who is a member of the RPO, said that at the meeting on March 10 in Plymouth, the RPO sent the ferry toll request back to the state General Assembly.

At several hearings held by the DOT this winter, state Rep. Paul Tine of Kitty Hawk told members of the RPO,  “Do not vote on this request. There’s no doubt we (legislators) created this problem, and we’d like to work on it in the short session that begins in May,” he said.

 The Albemarle RPO’s action followed on the heels of the Down East RPO, which on Feb. 14 declined to vote on enacting ferry tolls.

The hearings were about the legislature’s determination to raise $5 million per year from the seven ferries in the eastern part of the state in order to pay for replacement boats in the 22-boat fleet.   According to the legislation, the decision to enact tolls to raise more revenue is now in the hands of local folks who are part of the RPO, which includes 10 counties in eastern North Carolina.

A complicated funding procedure devised last year by Gov. Pat McCrory and called the Strategic Transportation Initiative divided the state into 10 regions all of whom were given $32 million with which to fund bridges, trains, airports, roads, bike and pedestrian projects, and ferry replacement. Prior to this initiative, ferry replacements were done by an appropriation from the legislature.  In December, the DOT’s Board of Transportation authorized the DOT staff to devise a ferry tolling methodology to raise this $5 million.

Malcolm Fearing, a Manteo resident who is a member of the DOT Board of Transportation that requested that tolls be enacted, said he considers the ferries as mass transit and will seek federal help in funding them as such.

So, Ocracoke and Hatteras islands are now in a waiting game until the legislature reconvenes.


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