Ferry tolls endorsed

Published 12:48 am Friday, May 13, 2011

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

Some Republicans in the state Senate have endorsed removing a House budget exemption to placing a toll on the state-funded Hatteras-to-Ocracoke ferry route.

“I have not seen it in writing, but I’ve heard from two separate Republican leaders that the tolls for the Ocracoke-to-Hatteras ferry, that exemption had been removed from their budget and they plan on tolling the ferry,” Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, told the Washington Daily News on Thursday.

A GOP-led House proposal would place tolls on ferry routes that currently are free and raise ferry tolls where they’re already charged.

This would include a $10-per-vehicle charge for each trip on the Aurora-Bayview ferry in eastern Beaufort County.

This route is used daily by commuters traveling to and from work at various locations north and south of the Pamlico River, including PotashCorp Aurora, the county’s largest industry.

But the House opted to leave alone the Hatteras-Ocracoke route, though it appears some of their Senate colleagues aren’t prepared to go along with that exemption.

Lucy Wallace, spokeswoman for the N.C. Ferry Division, confirmed the House budget would toll presently free routes at $10 per trip.

The House budget also would raise the $15-per-regular-size-car fee for riding the Swan Quarter-to-Ocracoke and Cedar Island-to-Ocracoke ferry routes, Wallace said.

The exact amount of the toll increase wasn’t specified, she said, but earlier reports on these dollar figures indicated these tolls could rise significantly once the House and Senate iron out a final state budget.

A call seeking comment from Sen. James Forrester, R-Gaston, co-chairman of the Senate committee on appropriations to the N.C. Department of Transportation, was returned by Mona Fitzgerald, Forrester’s legislative assistant.

“The Senate has not acted upon the House budget yet, and they are still in negotiations and working on it,” Fitzgerald said, adding nothing has been settled on the Senate side.

White opposes tolling any of the state’s ferry routes, which he sees as extensions of the highway system.

“I just find trouble understanding why people don’t think that the ferry system is a part of the highway system and those people that use those ferries are not entitled to the same privilege as people that drive highways in other parts of the state,” he said.

The ferry system has a budget of around $40 million, which comes to about $3.5 million to $4 million per route, White pointed out.

The average cost of a two-lane highway in this state is $5 million a mile, but people who use those highways aren’t being asked to pay tolls for the privilege of driving on them, according to the senator.

“It just really, really puts a burden on the working-class people,” he said.