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Ferries weather change

The ferry Neuse shuttles cars and passengers across the Pamlico River between Bayview and Aurora daily. (WDN Photo/Jurgen Boerema)

One important link in North Carolina’s transportation system is the N.C. Ferry Division.

The division has been going through many changes recently.

Lucy M. Wallace, N.C. Department of Transportation Ferry Division communications officer, commented on future toll rate and budget issues.

“It is yet to be determined how state budget cuts will affect the ferry system, since the governor has not submitted her budget to the General Assembly and the General Assembly has just begun developing their budget,” Wallace said before Gov. Beverly Perdue released her proposed budget.

“The division has however, and at the direction of the governor, submitted a 5-percent budget reduction in its overall budget and funding request for the 2011-2013 fiscal years,” Wallace continued. “These reductions will be made through management and resource efficiencies and are not anticipated to have any effect on current ferry routes or overall services levels.”

Wallace cited a 2009 study done by the Institute of Transportation Research and Education at N.C. State University which identified the option of using increased toll revenues to help the division finance vessel replacement needs.

Wallace said the study is affecting how the division is approaching the issue of future toll rates.

“The Ferry Division is currently conducting a follow-up ridership and toll revenue study to determine the best options to move forward,” she said. “The study is scheduled to be completed in the next two to three months and when complete, the results will be presented to the Board of Transportation for consideration.”

The division currently has two sound-class boats under construction that were put out for bids in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

The 2009 bid was awarded in October for $13 million.

The 2010 bid was awarded for $14.9 million.

Both boats are under construction by Orange Construction of Texas.

The last time the Ferry Division let out contracts to have a sound-class vessel built was prior to 1994, when the motor vessel Cedar Island was built by Trinity Marine.

The state ferry system currently has 20 ferries in operation over six bodies of water: Pamlico Sound, Pamlico River, Neuse River, Currituck Sound, Cape Fear River, and Hatteras Inlet.

The state Ferry Division is the second-largest state-owned ferry system in the United States. It transports more than 1 million vehicles and over 2 million passengers annually.

The division uses three classes of ferries: sound, river, and Hatteras class.

Wallace said the winter weather has affected ferry crossings at some locations more than others. The different coastal storms experienced this year affected most of the routes with the exception of the Southport-Fort Fisher route farther south.

In cases where snow and ice have forced suspensions, the route was up and operating as soon after the storm passed as possible.

The division also had a few minor temporary suspensions due to fog this winter.