February 20, 2018
Officials: Passenger Ferry Will Boost Tourism
By MARK HIBBS
COASTAL REVEIW ONLINE
North Carolina Department of Transportation is touting its first
passenger-only ferry, a high-speed, aluminum-hull catamaran being built
here, as a way to provide a higher level of service to coastal
travelers and boost tourism on the state’s Outer Banks.
State and company officials hosted last week an open house for media at
US Workboats’ manufacturing plant on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway
in Hubert, an unincorporated community in Onslow County near Swansboro.
The company is building the 92-foot-long, 26-foot-wide Ocracoke Express
passenger ferry that will operate from Hatteras Island to Ocracoke
Island’s Silver Lake Harbor. Officials expect service to begin by
Deputy Secretary for Multi-Modal Transportation Julie White, who was on
hand Thursday for the event, explained that shoaling in the Hatteras
Inlet ferry channel and the resulting increased transit time for
vehicle ferries were factors in a 20-25 percent decline in tourism
revenues on the island in recent years. The passenger ferry was
proposed as a solution after a 2015 feasibility study mandated by the
North Carolina General Assembly.
“Our goal is to get those tourism levels back to where they were,” White said.
2013, shoaling in Hatteras Inlet prompted the Ferry Division to switch
to a longer, deeper route between Hatteras and Ocracoke, the most
heavily used route in the state’s ferry service. What was once a 35- to
40-minute, 4.5-mile crossing for the Hatteras-Ocracoke vehicle ferry is
now about an hourlong, 9-mile trip.
effects of the change were “dramatic,” according to the state’s
feasibility study. Daily crossings in each direction were reduced from
53 to 36, and fuel and labor costs increased by more than $7,000 each
day. The change also created long queues at the ferry terminals, making
it difficult for visitors to the Outer Banks to make a day trip to
Ocracoke. Local business owners blamed their lost business revenue on
projected loss of between 31,000 and 50,000 visitors to Ocracoke in the
peak months could be attributed to the lower levels of service caused
by the longer route,” according to the study.
all Ocracoke business owners surveyed for the study said that long wait
times at ferry docks were a major challenge to their business.
call for the 100-passenger ferry to use Rollinson Channel to access the
Pamlico Sound and Big Foot Slough to access Silver Lake, making four
round-trips daily with the first departure from Hatteras at 10 a.m. and
the last departure from Ocracoke at 8:30 p.m., May through September.
The round-trip fare will be $15 per passenger.
said the Ocracoke Express will offer guaranteed boarding, with less
wait time at the ferry terminals, compared to vehicle ferries, which
will also continue service after the passenger ferry runs begin. The
new ferry will also offer amenities such as an air-conditioned
passenger cabin with open-air seating on the top deck, concessions and
bike racks for passengers wanting to bring their bicycles to Ocracoke.
can do the entire thing without a car,” White said, adding that the
plan has already sparked private business investment in Ocracoke
Village. Some locals are buying golf carts to make available for rent
to visitors, she said.
“Entrepreneurs in Ocracoke are seeing this as a wonderful way of experiencing Ocracoke,” she said.
state in June 2017 awarded the $4.15 million contract to build the
ferry. It’s part of an overall $9 million passenger ferry project that
also includes parking improvements and visitor facilities at the
Hatteras and Ocracoke-Silver Lake terminals. Money for the project is
from a grant from the Federal Lands Access Program and an appropriation
by the North Carolina General Assembly.
In addition to a faster crossing, the Ocracoke Express will arrive at
Silver Lake Harbor in the heart of the village, rather than at the
north ferry terminal about 20 minutes and 13.5 miles away, where
vehicles from Hatteras Island arrive.
Unlike the vehicle ferries, the shallow conditions in Hatteras Inlet
and Pamlico Sound won’t be a problem for the Ocracoke Express. Speed
and a shallow draft were the basis for the new ferry’s catamaran
design, which drew inspiration from a ferry the division tested in
Provincetown, Massachusetts, said Ferry Division spokesman Tim Haas.
“The catamaran hull is perfect for the environment it’s going to be operating in,” Haas said.
The new 95-ton ferry will feature water jet propulsion and four
803-horsepower Caterpillar C18 ACERT marine engines that are advertised
as meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2017 Tier 3 emissions
Sheila Pierce Knight, executive director of Jacksonville-Onslow
Economic Development, said at the media open house that US Workboats
has been “a great success story for eastern North Carolina.”
The Port Angeles, Washington-based company, formerly known as Armstrong
Marine, specializes in welded aluminum boat manufacturing. The company
in late 2013 announced it would invest more than $8.4 million in the
facility in Hubert. Originally a Tiara Yachts manufacturing plant, the
site was most recently owned by Brunswick Corp., which built Hatteras
Yachts here from 2005 until 2008.
Armstrong Marine completed its first boat made entirely in North
Carolina in 2015, a search and rescue boat made for Sullivan’s Island
Fire Department in South Carolina.
US Workboats has 24 employees and is adding about three each week,
depending on work and space for workers on the vessel, said the
company’s Tracy Gable.
Securing the state contract to build the ferry in Onslow County is a source of pride for the community, Knight said.
“It makes sense to have a boat being built for North Carolina Citizens
by North Carolina citizens,” she said. “It keeps our tax dollars at
The passenger ferry is one of two builds underway for the Ferry
Division. The other vessel is a new river class ferry being built in
Louisiana and slated for launch in 2020. The addition of two new
vessels is intended to reduce delays and travel times, Haas said.
“Hopefully, we’ll get summer wait times down to a reasonable level,” he said.
The state in October 2017 awarded a $9.7 million contract for
construction of the new river class vehicle ferry. That vessel will be
183 feet long and have room for 38 regular-sized vehicles. It
will serve as a replacement for the 22-year-old M/V Thomas A. Baum, a
Hatteras-class ferry that carries 26 vehicles.
Once built, the new vessel will be the Ferry Division’s first new car ferry since the M/V Sea Level was christened in 2012.