Manns Harbor - The North Carolina Ferry System met the challenges of two storm-based evacuations, found stability through new legislation and took the first steps toward establishing new passenger ferry service during a very busy and productive 2016.
"This was a very good year for the Ferry System," said Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin. "Under the leadership of Governor Pat McCrory, we've ended years of tolling uncertainty and solved the issue of funding ferry replacement. We're developing a new passenger ferry service for Ocracoke that will alleviate our summertime congestion problems. And we quickly and efficiently got thousands of North Carolina residents and visitors out of harm's way when storms threatened the coast."
A look back at the Ferry Division's year reveals several major milestones that put both the importance and potential of the state's ferry system on full display.
This year's state budget, signed by Governor McCrory, ended years of uncertainty over ferry tolls by keeping all four of the system's untolled routes free to the public. In addition, it provided for a recurring expenditure of $4 million per year to replace aging ferry vessels.
The budget also provided a one-time expenditure of $3.5 million to establish a passenger ferry service between Hatteras and Ocracoke's Silver Lake terminal. Planning for the passenger ferry service, which also received a National Park Service grant, is already underway, with a projected start date in the summer of 2018.
Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew impacted the North Carolina coast this year, resulting in the mandatory evacuation of Ocracoke Island. Over the course of those two emergencies (one during the busy Labor Day weekend), North Carolina ferries carried 3,251 passengers and 1,447 vehicles to safety.
In addition, the N.C. Ferry Division christened its new, state-of-the-art Dredge Manteo in May and opened a new terminal/visitors center in Currituck in August. A heroic ferry crew rescued boaters from a charter boat fire near Swan Quarter in July.
Looking ahead to 2017, the N.C. Ferry Division will celebrate its 70th Anniversary, open a new terminal/office building at Cherry Branch and start construction on new facilities at Hatteras and Ocracoke in anticipation of passenger ferry service beginning in 2018.
"The Ferry Division charted a new course in 2016," said Goodwin. "I think the people of North Carolina are going to like where we're going."