Ferry toll meetings set

Published 12:33 am Friday, January 6, 2012

Tolls are under consideration for the state ferry system, including the ferry Neuse which shuttles cars and passengers across the Pamlico River between Bayview and Aurora daily. (WDN File Photo/Jurgen Boerema)

The N.C. Department of Transportation will hold a series of public meetings on proposed new ferry tolls.

A tolling mandate handed down from Raleigh is likely to affect the Aurora-Bayview ferry route in eastern Beaufort County.

The series of meetings begins Jan. 18 in Hyde County and continues Jan. 19 at Beaufort County Community College east of Washington.

DOT is proposing toll increases on three ferry routes, those that link Swan Quarter and Ocracoke, Cedar Island and Ocracoke, plus Southport and Fort Fisher.

The department also proposes tolls on routes that are currently free, among them the Aurora-Bayview route.

The ratified House Bill 200 demanded that DOT’s Ferry Division enact tolls on all of the state’s ferries effective April 1 of this year. The legislation encouraged the division “to begin tolling on all routes before that date.”

Different rate models were floated from a study commissioned by DOT in response to this directive from the Legislature.

Those models show the now-free Aurora-Bayview ferry could see charges of $1 or $3 per trip for pedestrians once the toll is set.

The models present possible $2 or $5 charges per trip for bicyclists, $3 or $7 rates for motorcyclists, $4 or $10 charges for vehicles less than 20 feet long and $8 or $20 rates for vehicles — RVs, trucks with trailers — 20 to 40 feet long.

None of these rates has been set, and a range of options is under consideration.

Last year, the Legislature directed DOT to increase its annual ferry revenue by $5 million, related Lucy Wallace, spokeswoman for the Ferry Division.

New ferry-rate schedules are destined to be part of DOT’s plan for generating that money.

“How we go about it with the different tolling options is the main question right now,” Wallace said.

“We really encourage people to come out and express their opinions” at the public meetings, she added.

Beaufort County’s legislative delegation is somewhat divided on tolling ferries, especially the Aurora-Bayview route, which is used daily by PotashCorp-Aurora employees and others traveling to and from work.

Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, tentatively endorses charging ferry riders, with certain caveats.

Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, contends ferries that are free should stay free.

“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,” White told the Daily News in May.

In a follow-up 2011 interview Thursday, White said he didn’t like any of the tolling options on the table and had talked with legislative leaders about postponing the fee hikes for at least two years.

“I think ferries should not be free,” Cook said in May. “There’s an opportunity for the state to offset the large costs of ferries by the fees that tourists will pay for those ferries. I don’t think that the fees that we’re going to charge are anywhere near what they charge up north.”

Cook restated his position in a Thursday interview.

“I think folks who have to deal with tolls every day, you should give them a break,” he said.