The NC Department of Transportation is holding hearings this week on whether or not to raise the cost of riding the state's ferries (even in places where it's currently free). Here are five things you should know about the plan.
1) Nearly everyone would pay a little more; Some would pay a lot more.
There are four ferry routes at play here. Two of them don't currently charge passengers at all. Under the new structure, rates would go up anywhere from $0.50 to $28, basically everywhere, depending on your route and the size of your vehicle.
2) Locals wouldn't get a discount. HOWEVER...
Legally, the state can't toll people differently based on where they live. However, if you're a frequent user, the plan would provide annual passes that would (seemingly) offer significant savings if, say, you make a daily commute from Hatteras to Ocracoke.
There's also the possibility of system-wide passes, kind of like a park-hopper pass at Disney.
3) Some of NCDOT's ferries have been around since LBJ was President.
NCDOT has 22 ferries in the fleet. Most of them are 16-years-old or older. Two of them will turn 49 this year. It costs $16 million to replace a ferry. The proposed rate structure would provide NCDOT with an estimated $5 million a year to go towards replace the older parts of its fleet. It's part of a 20 year plan that would, theoretically, bring in $100 million.
4) There is another way to pay for this, but it comes with its own potential downside.
NCDOT's funding is broken up into three levels; Statewide, regional, and district. The alternative to raising tolls is to plan to dip into the district funding if a ferry needs replacing. That's about $32 million dollars for the district where these ferries are located. However, that means the ferries would be competing with all other transportation projects (roads, bridges, etc.) So there's no guarantee that a ferry could be replaced quickly. No tolls, but you run the risk of losing service, at least for a while.
5) This plan is not set in stone.
This is just a proposal from the state, and the informational hearings are a way to see if locals are on-board. If the communities are OK with this, they then have to make a formal request to the state Board of Transportation, who would then review the requests and set the rates. After the hearings these coming days, there will be a public comment period, and local planning authorities will have to decide whether or not to make the request. Here's a list of all the public hearings:
Tuesday, February 4, 2014, 7-9 p.m.
Knotts Island Elementary School
413 Woodleigh Road
Wednesday, February 5, 2014, 7-9 p.m.
Beaufort County Community College
5337 Highway 264 East
Thursday, February 6, 2014, 7-9 p.m.
Pamlico Community College - Delamar Center
5049 Highway 306 South
Tuesday, February 11, 2014 7‐9 p.m.
Crystal Coast Civic Center
3505 Arendell Street
Morehead City, NC, 28557
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 7‐9 p.m.
120 Schoolhouse Road
Ocracoke, NC, 27960
Thursday, February 13, 2014 7‐9 p.m.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
59200 Museum Drive
Hatteras, NC, 27943
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 7‐9 p.m.
Southport City Hall
201 E. Moore Street
Southport, NC, 284