ferries look to be in Ocracoke’s near future, now that the governor
has signed the state budget with $3.65 million included to build new
fast ferries and the infrastructure needed to operate them between
Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
many questions remain in the community about whether the service,
which would charge $15 round-trip per passenger, is a realistic
answer to persistent challenges with ferry traffic and the associated
decrease in tourism to the island.
think people are skeptical of it,” said Darlene Styron, owner of
Sweet Tooth and Fig Tree Bakery & Deli and a member of the
Ocracoke Civic and Business Association.
passenger ferry feasibility study released late last month by the
state Department of Transportation recommended adding two
100-passenger fast ferries to the current ferry fleet that transports
vehicles and millions of visitors a year between Hatteras and
total of seven sound-class and ocean-class ferries are currently
operating in Hatteras Inlet, which has been increasingly plagued with
shoaling. There will be no decrease in the number of vehicular
report concluded that restoring the former, shorter ferry route
would not be feasible.
state budget provides an additional $10 million for the state Ferry
Division, including $6 million in nonrecurring funds for
infrastructure and ferry refurbishment.
is a lot to be happy about in the ferry budget for Ocracoke
islanders, said Hyde County Manager Bill Rich, a county native who
lives on the island. The proposed tolling of the Hatteras-Ocracoke
ferry is off the table, and it is unlikely to come up again in the
future because it is now baked into law. The state, however, will be
able to raise existing tolls if it chooses.
the “game changer” for the island, Rich said, is the funding for
the passenger ferry service.
exactly what we need to return to levels they used to be and also to
eliminate horrible traffic with our day-trippers,” said Hyde County
Manager Bill Rich.
who is a member of the Albemarle Rural Planning Organization working
on transportation solutions, said that an earlier suggestion he had
made at a community meeting about having four passenger ferries and
four vehicle ferries was proposed as a way to avert the need to toll
the Hatteras ferry -- but that is now a moot point.
new ferries, with lighter draft, would transport passengers on the
one-hour trip from Hatteras directly to the village at Silver Lake,
rather than the existing terminal on the north end of the island.
only does it take care of a problem, it creates a tourist
attraction,” Rich said.
National Park Service has agreed to share parking on its land by the
Hatteras ferry docks and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. If all
goes as planned, the first passenger ferry could be running in about
a year and a half, Rich said.
said it could even encourage Dare County to “get on-board” with a
transit system that connects Nags Head to the ferry.
think that will happen,” he said. “It may be in baby steps.”
idea is with a unified public transportation system for passengers,
it could create a new visitor experience. “It makes it a tourist
adventure,” Rich said.
people arrive at Silver Lake, they will be able to rent golf carts, a
jeep or bicycles, or board one of three trams that will be going on a
regular loop with about 10 designated stops through the village.
There will also be a trolley bus available to take people to the Pony
Pens, the beach or even as far as the north ferry terminal.
trams, which would be free -- at least initially -- and available to
anyone would hold a total of about 30 people.
carts are allowed to go anywhere in the village, as far as Howard’s
Pub. The carts have been used on the island since 2006, and Rich said
there have been minimal problems with them. About 200 carts are
currently rented out by three operations, he said.
passenger ferries will run, at least to start, only in the summer
months. There has been discussion about moving the vessels to the
Inner Banks in the off-season between Labor Day and Memorial Day to
provide day trips.
are ocean-going catamaran-style boats,” Rich said. “They’re a
very safe ride – you can go in any weather.”
vessels will have theater-style seating with snack areas, although
alcohol will not be served because they are state-owned. Each
requires two workers to run, versus seven needed on vehicle ferries.
Passengers will be able to walk on with their luggage and keep it in
a dry storage area. There will also be an area to put bicycles.
biggest challenge will be getting up and around in a way that won’t
be more congested than it is now,” he said.
study shows that ridership would be expected to steadily increase, he
said, but what they don’t know is if there would be less ridership
than now. The goal is to make up the 25 percent loss of visitation
Rich said he has also heard concerns that the service will bring too
many people, and overwhelm businesses and infrastructure.
know, we can’t widen the streets,” he said. “You have golf
carts, bikes, vehicles, people walking in both directions,” he
said. “We just have to do a better job with signage.”
bike path that stretches from the end of the village to the
campground will be extended eight miles more to the ferry docks.
Infrastructure improvements will be made at Hatteras and Ocracoke
docks -- the new ferries require floating docks. About 150 additional
parking spaces will be constructed in Hatteras, adding to 120
existing spaces available currently for employees and passengers.
there’s an entrepreneurial opportunity on Ocracoke, somebody fills
it,” Rich said. “I think the community will gear up for it – I
think there will be a lot of good things that we’re not even aware
a romance to this island,” he added, “and to me, passenger
ferries only add to it.”
the county manager emphasized there is no plan whatsoever to
eliminate vehicles on the island, a major worry of the island’s 918
year-round residents and the merchants. But he understands why the
community, especially old-timers, who have heard too many broken
promises, are opposed to the changes.
provides 60 percent of Hyde County’s tax revenue, and supports
nearly every business on the island.
the end of the day,” Rich said, “everyone has to ask, ‘What’s
Baker, co-owner of Mermaid’s Folly, said that her business is down
40 percent since Hurricane Sandy, and the biggest reason is the ferry
are some people who have had to close,” Baker said. And business
owners can’t afford as much staff. “It’s really been really
hard. The season is getting shorter, and we’re working double-time
to try to handle the business here.”
what is worrisome is not just the longer trip and the long lines at
the docks; it’s also the sorry condition of the vessels.
just got off a ferry, and it sounded like the African Queen,” she
said. “I think in 2016, we should put more money into them and make
them better and swifter and safer.”
said there is now funding in the state budget to not only replace
ferries, but to also refurbish older ferries.
trippers are the bulk of the summer business, Baker said, and now
they’ve been arriving on the island as late as 4 p.m. because of
the long lines. But there are doubts that adding passenger ferries to
the mix is going to help. For instance, there are still not enough
public restrooms on the island, let alone transportation
think that people are going to leave their cars with all their
belongings on Hatteras – I think that’s a gamble,” Baker said.
no one is clear about what is going on, especially since a community
meeting with the Ferry Division was cancelled earlier this month.
The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 8.
feel like we’re in the dark, that we’re going to be turned into
Portsmouth Island,” Baker said. “To me, they’re putting the
horse before the cart.”
passenger ferry plans includes:
approximately 100-passenger ferries capable
of cruising at approximately 25 knots.
access the Pamlico Sound and Big
Foot Slough to
access Silver Lake.
round trips per day with
the first departure from Hatteras at 8 a.m. with the last departure
from Ocracoke at 8:30 p.m. May through September.
round trip fare per
and application-based ticketing.
of an open-sided
terminal immediately adjacent to the existing Hatteras Terminal.
and passenger drop off in
the existing lot adjacent to the Hatteras Terminal. Additional
in the existing Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum parking or in a
newly constructed lot adjacent to this facility with shuttle service
to the Hatteras Terminal.
system of signage,
including a variable message sign, at the approach to the Hatteras
floating platform that
allows for berthing of two vessels and side loading/unloading at
Hatteras and Ocracoke.
adjacent to the existing sound-class ferry docks. A
temporary terminal located
immediately adjacent to the National Park Service Ocracoke Visitors
permanent terminal in
this same location that will accommodate the Ferry Division, NPS,
and Hyde County.
comprehensive signing package to
disperse passengers from the Ocracoke Terminal.
loop transit system on Ocracoke with
20-30 minute headways.
LTV transit system to
connect the Ocracoke Terminal with the South Dock terminal and
provide access to attractions outside of Ocracoke village.
the curve along Highway 12 just south of Water Plant Road
with local businesses to
provide golf cart and bicycle rental.
full copy of the
Passenger Ferry Feasibility Study is on the NCDOT