Ferry tolls head back to the legislative court, RPO takes no action

Ferry tolls head back to the legislative court, RPO takes no action

NEW BERN - Representatives from five counties Friday decided to not make a decision on whether to toll or not toll the Minesott-Cherry Branch ferry in Craven and Pamlico counties.

This decision will send the responsibility to toll back to the state general assembly. So, why did the representatives make the decision?

In July, 2013, the state legislature put the decision of whether or not to toll ferries in the hands of regional rural planning organizations or RPOs, which are organizations that handle transportation projects in the state. Friday was the first time the Downeast RPO met in regards to the ferry toll issues.

Revenue generated from tolling would raise money for new ferries or other vessels that support ferry operation, like tug boats or dredging ships. The group had three options. First, they could accept ferry tolling for the Minesott-Cherry Branch ferry, which would add a $7.00 toll for single cars each way to the ferry.

Second, the group could could reject the tolls in which case money for new vessels would come out of a general project fund. Any ship purchased would compete with a number of road, bridge, train, pedestrian and bike path projects.

The third option was to do nothing. By doing nothing, the group sends the issue back to the state legislature. By a unanimous 6-0 vote, the group voted to ask the general assembly to solve the problem, but with a catch. The Downeast RPO asked them to consider treating to whole state equally.

"Tolling ferries in Eastern North Carolina you really are in a sense discriminating against Eastern Carolina because our ferries are our roads and bridges," DERPO chairman Trace cooper said. "There's no difference between a road in Eastern Carolina and a road from the bottom of a mountain to the top of a mountain in Western North Carolina."

The decision follows several public hearings in which most attendees were opposed to ferry tolls. Ferry toll opposition extends back three years. In 2011, the legislature asked the NCDOT to make up for $5 million in budget shortfalls. It was proposed new tolls and toll increases could make up for the money. In 2012, then governor Bev Purdue put a moratorium on the tolls, which lasted until the legislature handed over control of tolling to rural planning organizations in the state.

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