CRAVEN COUNTY -

Commuters who travel the Minnesott Beach-Cherry Branch ferries will soon be noticing construction on the Cherry Branch side. A brand new ramp is set to be installed starting  mid-February, with a completion date of September 15th, 2013.

Currently, there are two ramps on the Minnesott Beach side, there is only one at Cherry Branch. Operations Manager Roger Whitehurst says the $1.4 million project has been in the works for awhile.

"Some funding was made available awhile back for the other side but the funding has just taken a while. But now we can do the one on this side." said Whitehurst.

All the ramps can handle tide changes.

"Well the ferry comes in you have a difference in tide, whether it is low or high and of course you have to have a ramp that moves up and down to accommodate that, so it can reach the deck of the boat to off-load traffic," said Whitehurst.

But sometimes, wind is so strong that the tides are much too high or low for the ramp to load or unload traffic onto the boats.

"The tide changes a good two to three feet on a normal day, but it depends on the wind. With a strong northeast wind we get too much water, with a southwest wind, not enough," said Ferry Captain Micheal Merrill.

The new ramp being installed will be longer, which means it will be able to keep traffic moving in even-lower and even-higher tides than the station can currently handle.

The new ramp will also act as a back-up when the primary ramp needs maintenance.

"And for people who don't think its a good idea, take the ferry every day and wait for that one time that the ferry is down because of ramp maintenance or problems and then you'll see what a good idea it is." said Richie Smith, a frequent commuter. 

Some commuters were concerned the money for the ramp was being taken from the same fund proposed ferry tolls would be supplying. Department of Transportation staff says the two are completely separate. 

The new ramp will be funded  by Ferryboat Discretionary Funds,  which provides 80 percent by federal dollars, with a 20 percent state match.