Some eastern North Carolinians are pleased with an aspect of the new state budget proposal. State legislators have left decisions on whether to charge tolls on some coastal ferry routes in the hands of local transportation planning boards.
State Department of Transportation officials could only start the process to levy ferry ride charges if the planning boards sent in a written request. Larry Summers is a town commissioner in Oriental. Neuse and Pamlico ferries serve many who visit his town.
"We have no interstates in Pamlico County at all," Summers says. "There is almost no reason for anyone to come down by highway if the ferry starts costing additional money. That would really stop some people from taking a somewhat alternative way to come down into this part of eastern Carolina."
Officials in coastal communities believe putting ferry decisions in the hands of the communities that use them is a sound idea. Atlantic Beach mayor Trace Cooper serves as chair of the Down East Rural Planning Organization. He says his group and similar municipal planning organizations know more about ferries that state lawmakers do..
"It's also relatively new...the idea of giving these RPOs some authority," Cooper says. "We're planning organizations that work with the DOT to prioritize transportation projects. So this is a good thing for the RPOs and the MPOs to give them a little more decision-making power than we've had in the past.
North Carolina has a total of seven ferry routes. The four that cross Hatteras Inlet, Currituck Sound and the Neuse and Pamlico rivers are free of charge.