July 31, 2014
Ferry tolling issue still unresolved
as legislature nears adjournment
By CONNIE LEINBACH
The skirmishes over tolling free ferries and raising tolls on the others are likely to be with us into next year.
North Carolina General Assembly is expected to conclude its lengthy
budget negotiations this week without making changes to legislation
passed last year that opens the door for the changes to tolls.
Henri McClees, one of a duo of lobbyists hired by Hyde and two other
coastal counties to promote coastal North Carolina interests, said
yesterday that right now the transportation portion of the budget is
the same as last year.
She said the budget was expected to be
put online late last night. The printed version will be available today
and the budget will be voted on today through Saturday before
Last year, Gov. Pat McCrory devised a new -- and
complicated -- funding formula to bankroll transportation needs across
the state by dividing the state into 10 divisions that receive money
according to population.
These divisions also have local input
in the form of Rural Planning Organizations that are tasked with
deciding how their pot of money is spent. The Albemarle
Commission RPO, which includes Hyde and Dare counties, received $32
million with which to fund all of the division needs -- roads, bridges,
rail, airports, bike and pedestrian projects, and ferry replacement.
provision in the budget passed in 2013 allows for the N.C. Dept. of
Transportation to enact tolls to pay for ferry replacement but only
with a request by the local RPO.
Last December, the state Board
of Transportation, an appointed group that oversees transportation for
the state, ordered the DOT to devise a ferry tolling plan, and
Ocracokers and folks from other coastal communities spoke against
adding or raising tolls at several hearings on the plans.
After these hearings concluded in February, the RPOs that have ferries in their transportation mix declined to request tolls.
the legislature reconvened in May, bills were introduced in both
chambers to eliminate ferry tolls, but neither of these bills remained
in the Senate version of the budget over which the two houses have been
arguing for the better part of this month.
“Although the House
pressed for a final resolution of the ferry toll issue, Senate
conferees refused to discuss the issue,” McClees said in an
Rep. John A. Torbett (R-Gaston), who is
chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, along
with Charles Jeter (R-Mecklenberg) and Paul Tine (D-Kitty Hawk),
have advocated for eliminating ferry tolls, but the majority of the
Senate feels that ferries should require a user fee.
produces needed revenue, whereas tolling removes money from coastal
communities,” McClees said about the message she and her husband, Joe,
the other half of the duo, are pressing for. “We will bring this
concept to the General Assembly when they convene in January.”