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Work on new ferry reaches a milestone

Better late than never, according to the old saying.

That appears to be the case with the Ocracoke Express, which was expected to be in service this summer but won’t be running between Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island until this fall. A shortage of skilled workers is a factor in the delay of the ferry, according to the N.C. Ferry Division.

On Monday, employees at US Workboats in Hubert flipped the 48,000-pound hull of the M/V Ocracoke Express, moving construction of the Ferry Division’s first passenger-only vessel into its final stages. The aluminum catamaran-style hull was assembled upside down during the past several months. The passenger cabin and pilot house were constructed separately. With the hull flipped, workers will install engines and steering systems and assemble the entire ferry. US Workboats expects to deliver the vessel to the Ferry Division in September.

The Ocracoke Express will be a 98-passenger ferry that will take pedestrians from the Hatteras Inlet Terminal directly to the Silver Lake Terminal in the heart of Ocracoke Village. The project is designed to ease visitor access to Ocracoke Island and alleviate summertime congestion on the ferry system’s popular vehicle ferry.

The ferry fare is $15 for a round-trip excursion, including free access to the public tram that serves Ocracoke Village and adjacent areas. Children 5 years old or younger may ride the ferry at no cost, but an adult must accompany them.

Passengers may leave their vehicles at the Hatteras ferry terminal, where 148 parking spaces will be available. Overnight parking is not allowed.

Passengers with reservations should check in at least 30 minutes before departure times. Walk-up passengers (no reservations) will be accepted up to 15 minutes before the ferry departs. The ferry accepts passengers’ bicycles.

Passengers are allowed small carry-on items such as backpacks and purses. Walkers and strollers are permitted on the ferry. Large luggage items and coolers are prohibited.

The ferry terminal at Silver Lake Harbor is within walking distance of most of the shops and restaurants on Ocracoke. Passengers my rent bicycles and golf carts to get around the island.

Several factors influenced the decision to build and operate the new ferry. A survey showed people would pay for a quicker ride to Ocracoke Village and the ability to skip lines. A passenger ferry would reach the village in about the same time as a vehicle ferry reaches the north docks about 15 miles away. Officials hope to boost the economy of tiny Ocracoke Island, where the tourism business has fallen by an estimated 25 percent in the past three years.

Riders on the route to Ocracoke have fallen to 815,000 a year from more than 1 million since the early 2000s. Much of the decline has come in the last three years when shoaling in Hatteras Inlet forced the ferries to take a longer route — an hour instead of 40 minutes, reducing the number of daily trips.

Jed Dixon, the ferry system’s assistant director, said the ferry’s run between the two islands would take 70 minutes.

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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