State Department of Transportation officials are setting new or higher rates for tolls and commuter passes on five ferry routes, as ordered by the legislature – but they are obeying the governor’s ban on collecting the new tolls.
“We’re in a box now because the law says one thing, but the governor told us not to do it,” said Gene Conti, the transportation secretary.
Proposed rates unveiled today would introduce new charges for pedestrians and for vehicle passengers, who ride free now on ferries where tolls are collected on vehicles and their drivers.
DOT ferry officials figure they will be told eventually to start collecting these new tolls – but nobody knows when that will be.
In a two-year budget adopted last year over the veto of Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, the Republican-controlled legislature ordered DOT to start collecting fares on two toll-free river ferries used mostly by commuters, and to set higher rates on three routes where tolls are collected now.
The new rates were supposed to take effect April 1, but Perdue last month ordered a one-year moratorium. She cited economic hardship in coastal North Carolina communities and said the new tolls would put an unfair burden on residents. Perdue is not seeking re-election, so there’s a chance her moratorium could be undone after her successor takes office next January.
Republican legislators have expressed doubts about the governor’s legal authority to block the tolls. They’ll have a chance to raise the issue formally Thursday, when tolls are on the agenda of a House appropriations subcommittee meeting.
Meanwhile, Paul G. Morris, DOT deputy secretary for transit, explained his proposed new toll rates for ... whenever:
Cherry Branch-Minnesott Beach (Neuse River), now toll-free: Car and driver $4, more for larger vehicles. Pedestrian or passenger $1. Bicycle $2. Motorcycle $2.50.
Aurora-Bayview (Pamlico River), now toll-free, and Southport-Fort Fisher, now tolled: Car and driver $10, more for larger vehicles. Pedestrian or passenger $2. Bicycle $3. Motorcycle $5.
Swan Quarter-Ocracoke and Cedar Island Ocracoke (Pamlico Sound), now tolled: Car and driver $27, more for larger vehicles. Pedestrian or passenger $5. Bicycle $10. Motorcycle $15.
A one-year commuter pass good on all ferry routes would be available for commuters and other frequent riders: Car and driver $500, more for larger vehicles. Pedestrian or passenger $100. Bicycle or motorcycle $500.
One-year passes, good only on a single route, also would be offered at lower rates: Car and driver $150 on Cherry Branch ferry, $200 on Aurora and Southport ferries, $300 on Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries, higher for larger vehicles. Other pass rates range from $25 to $75 for pedestrians and passengers, and $150 to $300 for bicycles and motorcycles.
Children under 12 would ride toll-free, and adults 65 and over would get a 10 percent discount.
“We will be at the discretion of the governor and the General Assembly to determine at what point we actually implement the new tolls,” Morris said.
The budget calls for new rates that will increase toll collections by $2 million this year, growing to $5 million in additional tolls two years from now. Perdue said DOT will cut spending enough to make up for the toll revenues canceled by her order.