Raleigh, N.C. — For the third time in as many years, House lawmakers are trying to get rid of tolls on the state’s ferries – and Senate leaders are once again pushing back.
Rep. Paul Tine, U-Dare, said Tuesday that the House budget, due out next week, will include a proposal to increase ferry funding by $13.4 million per year. The additional funding, he said, would pay for the renovation or replacement of ferries as needed, as well as renovations and repairs to landing areas.
That's in addition to the $38 million in operational funding allotted under the state's Strategic Transportation Initiative, the transportation funding plan passed by lawmakers in 2013.
Tolls on ferries, imposed on three of the seven coastal routes, range from $1 to $15 each way. Under the STI plan, the tolls are earmarked to pay for ferry replacement. But the net proceeds – around $1.2 million per year, according to Tine – don't come anywhere near the level of funding needed for that purpose.
Tine said the state should pay for ferries the same way it pays for every other type of transportation infrastructure in the state, noting that ferries are the only highways that the state imposes a toll on for maintenance.
"Everything else is about new projects or expansion projects or shared lanes or the bridge out in the eastern part of the state where there’s another way around," Tine said. "There is no other way around on a lot of these ferries unless you have your own boat."
The House Transportation Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the proposal, set out in House Bill 1002. But it's likely to run into trouble again in the Senate.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, said the tolls are part of the STI plan, and he's not inclined to make changes to that. He said his constituents "like the toll" on the Fort Fisher to Southport route.
"They don't disagree with it at all. It's a nominal fee," Rabon said. "You can pay $5 to jump on the ferry and run across the river, or you can drive all the way around in heavy traffic, which is 51 miles. So, there's a time savings, and there's the money saved.
"I think it’s equitable. I think it’s fair," he continued. "User fees are something that I believe in."
"As soon as they put user fees on every other highway and every other bridge that’s in the state that people use on a daily basis to get from A to B," Tine responded, "then I would think that that would be a fair system."
Tine said his proposal would fully fund the ferry system without putting an undue burden on the pockets of coastal residents.
"These are our floating bridges. The only reason they exist is because we don’t want to spend the extra money to bridge [those routes]," he said. "It’s actually cheaper to maintain ferries. So, just because it’s a different type of bridge to get there doesn’t mean we should treat it differently in regards to how we fund it."