Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry toll may happen sooner rather than later
By CONNIE LEINBACH
day of reckoning may be at hand as early as Wednesday when the Regional
Planning Organization may vote to toll the Hatteras Ferry.
what Bill Rich, Hyde County manager, announced tonight at the Ocracoke
Civic and Business Association meeting in the Community Center.
bottom line is there is going to be a toll for the
Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry whether we want it or not because the Ferry
Division has to find a way to pay for new and badly needed ferries,” he
said, attending the meeting via phone hook-up.
said he has been in many discussions with members of the RPO (District
1, which includes Ocracoke) who have suggested that Ocracoke get ahead
of any General Assembly gambit to force a toll on the Hatteras-Ocracoke
Ferry by offering a two-fold solution.
The first one is to toll tourist vehicles at $15 per car. Ocracoke residents would be exempt.
second would be a $75 yearly commuter pass that would enable anyone to
ride any of the Ocracoke ferries, including those for Swan Quarter
and Cedar Island.
Currently, that fee is $15 each way.
residents, since they would be exempt from the toll, could elect not to
purchase this as well. Then, if they want to use the Swan Quarter or
Cedar Island ferries, they would pay the per-crossing charge.
The RPO is scheduled to vote on this issue on Wednesday, Oct. 21, Rich said.
The OCBA members did not vote last night on Rich’s proposal and said more island residents need to be in on the discussion.
the public is invited to discuss this development further at the
regular monthly meeting with Ferry Division officials at 1 p.m. Monday,
Oct. 19, in the Community Center.
“The state has forced this on us,” Rich continued. “When you’re 90 percent tourism, you’re going to get tolled.”
If the state can garner $2 million from Hatteras Ferry tolls, it gets them to the revenue they need to get to, Rich said.
the future based on the (state) budget,” he said, adding that some in
the General Assembly question the wisdom of spending $42 million a year
on ferries for the 900 (or so) residents of Ocracoke.
He said that all of the other counties in the RPO are behind us and will do whatever Hyde wants.
danger in the RPO not voting on this—or voting for no tolls—is that the
state legislature could then introduce its own bill to toll the
the Monday night Hyde County Commissioners’ meeting, Rich had noted
that Ed Goodwin, Ferry Division director, has been getting pressure to
toll the Hatteras Ferry.
Rudy Austin, OCBA president, questioned the math.
ridiculous if it’s $15 per car per round trip for the car ferry and $15
per person on the passenger ferry,” he said. “Toll the tourists
and see what it does to the $320,000 (in occupancy tax revenue). Any
money lost on Ocracoke is lost for the county and state as well.”
O’Neal, owner of the Island Ragpicker, said she thought this toll would
hurt Ocracoke’s already-suffering economy, and suggested, if necessary,
a lower per-car price of $5.
visitors to the island have declined since the short ferry route across
the inlet was discontinued in 2013 and a longer route further into the
sound was made the official route.
Some other questions to consider about this issue that weren’t addressed last night are:
Would vendors have to pay the toll or be exempt?
if the RPO decides not to vote on this issue and the state legislature
introduces a bill to toll the Hatteras Ferry? If Ocracoke
continued to fight it with the grassroots efforts that have been
successful fighting off ferry tolls since 2011, would it still succeed?
Since Gov. Pat McCrory’s election, the state has revamped how it doles out transportation money.
decision to enact tolls to raise more revenue is now in the hands of
local folks who are part of the RPO, which includes 11 counties in
eastern North Carolina. A complicated funding procedure McCrory devised
and called the Strategic Transportation Investments divides 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.
a new car ferry costs $12 to $15 million—which would be half of the RPO
allotment—that would take away from other much-needed projects.
effort in the last couple of years by state Rep. Paul Tine and others
to get ferry-replacement funding out of the RPO pot and into the
general transportation budget has not succeeded.
(To read more news and features about Ocracoke Island, go to www.ocracokeobserver.com.)