Representatives from local and state government offices headed to Hatteras Village on Saturday afternoon for an inside look at the new facilities for the Hatteras / Ocracoke passenger ferry, which is set to launch to the public on May 14, 2019.
The assembled group included members of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, N.C. House Representative Bobby Hanig, and representatives for U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, U.S. Senator Richard Burr, and State Senator Bob Steinburg.
The event was orchestrated by Hatteras Island’s county commissioner, Danny Couch, and included a tour of Hatteras Village’s Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, as well as an invite to the annual N.C. Coastal Federation Oyster Roast, which was held at nearby Oden’s Dock.
“We’re trying to increase awareness of Hatteras Inlet, local economic development, and Hatteras’ potential,” said Danny Couch. “This was a good opportunity to talk with [our representatives] face to face.”
Jed Dixon, Deputy Director for the NCDOT Ferry Division, was also in attendance, and gave the representatives a tour of the new Hatteras terminal’s facilities for the upcoming passenger ferry, while providing additional insight on new island-centric NCDOT projects that are underway.
Dixon began with a background on the passenger ferry project, noting that when shoaling in Hatteras Inlet became a problem after Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012, the travel time for the ferry increased from roughly 35-40 minutes to an hour. As such, the amount of vehicles that could be accommodated on the Hatteras / Ocracoke ferry noticeably decreased.
“On a busy summer day, we could [accommodate] 2,000 passengers. Now, the best we can do is 1,200 or 1,300, and people have to wait longer,” he said.
The new passenger ferry, the Ocracoke Express, can carry as many as 98 passengers on a 70-minute trip which lands on the edge of Ocracoke Village. “This particular boat will bypass Hatteras Inlet, and won’t have to deal with shoaling issues in that area,” said Dixon.
Besides ferrying pedestrians only – and not vehicles – Dixon also outlined some of the new and unique features that the passenger ferry will have when it launches in the spring.
For one thing, the ferry will operate on a reservations-based schedule, as opposed to the vehicular ferry, which is based on first-come, first-serve service for visitors.
“People want the flexibility to come and go as they want,” said Dixon. “This is reservations-based, so people will know when they can go, and when they can leave.”
In addition, the ticketing system will have a barcode system so that reservation holders can scan their tickets upon arrival, with a cell phone or mobile device, and without a physical paper ticket.
Dixon also pointed out the new parking area that has been extended for the passenger ferry, and which recently added 100 new spaces. Overnight parking spaces will also be available for visitors who want to spend the weekend in Ocracoke, and leave their car behind.
When the passenger ferry launches, it will operate three round-trips per day in the summer season. Eventually, that schedule may increase to include year-round service.
The NCDOT is also in the process of partnering with a vendor to provide food sales on board.
With the passenger ferry, as well as a new river-class vehicle ferry that will also be arriving in 2019, Dixon noted to the group of government officials that the recent steps by the NCDOT would hopefully boost traffic to the islands, and the local economies.
“We’re part of the Department of Transportation, but we’re in the tourism business too,” said Dixon. “And we’re glad to get to the point where everything [for the passenger ferry] is in the final stages.”