Speakers oppose ferry tolls

Published 5:24 pm Thursday, February 6, 2014

MIKE VOSS | DAILY NEWS HERE’S YOUR SIGN: Larry Summers, an Oriental town commissioner, makes his viewpoint on ferry tolls clear with this sign he’s taken to several meetings about ferry tolls.

HERE’S YOUR SIGN: Larry Summers, an Oriental town commissioner, makes his viewpoint on ferry tolls clear with this sign he’s taken to several meetings about ferry tolls.

Speaker after speaker made it clear: no tolls for using the Bayview-Aurora ferry — or other ferry routes that do not currently charge tolls. That message was driven home during a public meeting Wednesday night at Beaufort County Community College to discuss the proposed ferry tolls. Among the speakers making it clear they oppose ferry tolls were area legislators who represent the counties that would be affected by the imposition of ferry tolls. Most of the speakers Wednesday night sent their messages to the Mid-East Rural Planning Organization, the entity that will decide whether to impose tolls on the Bayview-Aurora ferry. It covers Beaufort, Pitt and Martin counties. In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly mandated that new ferry acquisitions be funded through Strategic Transportation Initiative funding or by revenue-raising initiatives such as tolling, advertising and concessions. The General Assembly also mandated that all tolling increases be requested by the regional Rural Planning Organizations or Metropolitan Planning Organizations before being approved by the Board of Transportation. In its December meeting, the Board of Transportation approved a tolling methodology which tolls routes by distance travelled and raises approximately $5 million a year for ferry replacement. This methodology includes the establishment of tolls on the Hatteras-Ocracoke, Currituck-Knotts Island, Bayview-Aurora and Cherry Branch-Minnesott Beach routes, as well as increases in tolls on the Southport-Fort Fisher, Cedar Island-Ocracoke and Swan Quarter-Ocracoke routes. The proposed rate changes can be found on NCDOT’s Ferry website. All money collected will go only toward new ferry vessels. After the public hearings, the RPOs/MPOs will decide whether to accept the toll changes. Belhaven resident Justin Keith opposes ferry tolls, saying ferries are extensions of highways already paid for by taxpayers and motorists who pay taxes on fuel. “It just isn’t right,” Keith said. Other speakers echoed his comments. Former Beaufort County Commissioner Carolyn Harding called ferry tolls nothing but a ruse for the state to get rid of the Bayview-Aurora ferry. State Reps. Paul Tine and Michael Speciale and state Sen. Bill Cook said they would continue to fight the proposed ferry tolls when they return to the N.C. General Assembly later this year. Tine is a Democrat. Speciale and Cook are Republicans. Speciale, who represents part of Beaufort County, said the fight against ferry tolls is not over. “Don’t give up the fight. We (area legislators) haven’t,” he told the audience at the meeting. Tine, who also represents part of Beaufort County, wants the Mid-East RPO and DOT to reject the tolling option. Each RPO and MPO has two options when it comes to raising funds to replace ferries: impose ferry tolls (a stable income source) or compete with other projects for funding within its transportation division. Tine believes their other solutions. “I am on the Joint Transportation Oversight Committee, where we’ve been meeting between the two sessions. I believe strongly that we have some legislative answers during the short session that we can bring,” Tine said. Tine said one solution could be finding the needed $5 million a year for ferry replacement somewhere in DOT’s $4 billion-plus budget. Another solution, he said, could be moving ferry replacement from the transportation division level to the regional level where it would have less impact on other transportation projects at the division level. “But if the RPOs don’t turn down the tolling authority, we won’t have the ammunition we need in the Legislature in order to make these changes,” Tine said. “Our ferries are our transportation system. They exist in lieu of bridges. If you were to bridge just the five most reasonable (ferry) routes, it would be over a billion dollars, and it take us 25-plus years to recoup that cost. So, it actually saves the state money to have these ferries in existence instead of building the bridges.” The Mid-East RPO next meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Building 10 at Beaufort County Community College. One speaker, Joseph Babb of Winterville and who owns a house on Ocracoke Island, was the only one to indicate any kind of support for ferry tolls. “If the ferries need to be tolled, so be it,” he said. Babb also said regular ferry users should receive discounts on tolls and that DOT should “find a fair an equitable way to do it.”

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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