A battle won in ferry-toll war

Published 1:31 am Friday, May 31, 2013

Chalk up a victory for coastal counties and their residents in the ongoing war against the implementation of higher ferry tolls and the imposition of new ferry tolls.

But it’s just one victory. Others will be needed to defeat the plan to increase tolls on existing ferry routes that now charge tolls and to put in place tolls on ferry routes that are currently free, including the Aurora-Bayview ferry that crosses the Pamlico River.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Committee of the state House approved House Bill 475, which would delay the toll changes for another year until the N.C. Department of Transportation evaluates ways to generate more revenue for the ferry system to ease the need for higher and new tolls. Unless a change is made, the changes to the toll system could not take place until mid-2014.

The state’s coastal counties do not need nor want the ferry-toll system to change. Leaders in those counties are correct when they say the ferries are extensions of the state’s highway system, which motorists in North Carolina support by paying a fuels tax, which is among the highest such taxes in the Southeast. Enacting the changes in the ferry-toll system would in effect punish coastal residents, including those who use ferries to commute to work. Some inhabited islands off the state’s coast are reachable only by ferries.

Henri McLees, the lobbyist representing Beaufort County at the General Assembly, recognizes the battle over the ferry tolls will continue in the coming months.

“Representatives who work on transportation issues are aware of the many problems associated with imposing a new ferry tax on commuters and islanders. Most have voted with us as we look for alternatives to taxing ferry passengers. Now, it is time to communicate with a larger group of Representatives, many of whom are not familiar with the ferry tax issue,” he wrote in an email.

Hats off to state Reps. Paul Tine, a Dare County Democrat, and Michael Speciale, a Craven County Republican, for supporting the coastal counties’ fight against the ferry-toll changes. They are listening to their constituents and acting accordingly.

Keep on battling.