Hatteras-Ocracoke passenger ferry service pushed back to 2019

By on May 20, 2018

The hull of the M/V Ocracoke Express is expected to be flipped over mid-June. (NC Ferry Division)

By Connie Leinbach

The new passenger-only ferry service between Hatteras and Ocracoke will likely be launched in the spring of 2019, according to N.C Ferry Division officials.

Delivery of the 98-passenger catamaran-style boat being custom built by U.S. Workboats in Hubert, near Swansboro, was supposed to be ready this month according to the contract, said Jed Dixon, N.C. Ferry Division Deputy Director, at a meeting May 9 of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association civic affairs committee.

But on Friday, the Ferry Division announced at the Passenger Ferry Stakeholders meeting in Manteo that the new boat is taking longer to be built than previously planned.

“The builder is not meeting the schedule,” Tom Pahl, Ocracoke’s county commissioner, said. “This is not going to be operational until next year.”

Pahl said he will confer with Dixon and Hyde County Manager Bill Rich Monday morning, and have a further statement. Additionally, the bi-monthly meeting on Ocracoke with the Ferry Division is scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday in the Community Center followed by the Ocracoke Waterways Commission at 5:30 p.m.

Dixon said on May 9 and in prior meetings on the island that the ferry was originally expected to be ready by late spring of this year, but it was already having production delays.

A story in the Raleigh News and Observer on Friday quoted Tim Hass, spokesman for the Ferry Division, that the ship builder has had trouble finding enough skilled workers, especially certified marine welders.

The boat will $4.15 million with seating for 98, including two wheelchair spaces, and 16 bicycle racks.

Upstairs outdoor seating for 29 won’t be sold but will be available for riders to be able to spread out. At this point, he said, the trip between the islands is expected to take 70 minutes over the 25-route in the Pamlico Sound.

Construction of passenger waiting areas is proceeding in Ocracoke (top) and Hatteras. (Connie Leinbach)

Dixon said the hull is still being built and is expected to be flipped over in mid-June.

He also said the Ferry Division will hire a passenger ferry company with a three-person crew to run the boat at first so that Ferry Division workers can learn how to operate it.

Attendees at the May 9 OCBA meeting wondered if passengers could purchase tickets one day but return on another day to encourage longer stays on the island.

Dixon said the reservation system and scheduling is still being worked out, he said.

“We don’t want to exclude anyone who wants to use it,” Dixon said. “We won’t know until it’s up and running.”

Infrastructure such as passenger loading docks, additional parking on Ocracoke and Hatteras, and covered waiting areas, is estimated at about $5 million, Dixon said. The new infrastructure is being built on both islands.

Regarding Ocracoke village tram service, the Hyde County commissioners at their May 7 meeting awarded a five-year contract to islander Joseph Ramunni, manager of the Ocracoke Community Store, to operate four passenger trams.

However, Pahl said subsequently that the timing of the rollout of tram service is still under discussion.

According to the contract documents, the first year’s operating costs will be $132,605 the second-year’s costs will be $160,615 and the third through fifth-year’s costs will be $160,065.

NCDOT has committed to paying up to $90,000 of the yearly tram costs and Hyde County the rest including maintenance costs, Rich said at the May 9 meeting. The county will request $35,000 from the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax board for two years toward the tram costs.

He said NCDOT is purchasing the four trams.

“There’s no cost to the county for the trams themselves,” Rich said.

The trams will carry visitors on a half-hour loop and around the village. All Ocracoke visitors and residents may ride the trams for free.

Signage by the DOT for the eight stops on the loop is still being worked out, Rich said.

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  • Obxguy

    We claim tourism as our industry and our staple here. But yet we continue to give the ferry and road use for free. Virginia charges more to cross their border on weekends knowing it is shoppers and out of state people they are charging. What happened to locals ride free visitors pay for the privilege.

    Sunday, May 20 @ 2:00 pm
  • Really?

    I said from the start this is a big old boondoggle. So the State decided to sign a contract with a company that didn’t even have the manpower to fulfill the contract? Then as recently as May 9 Dixon stated ferry would be ready by late spring? Really?? Dixon would’ve known good and well that ferry wouldn’t be ready if it was still a shell that hadn’t been flipped to finish the topside yet. Sounds like Dixon is just blowing smoke and just telling people what they want to hear. He knew good and well it wouldn’t be ready. Sounds like we need someone competent in there that will give citizens the true status of the project when it’s taxpayer money being wasted on these pet projects, Cant wait to see the cost over runs on this huge waste of money.

    Monday, May 21 @ 8:14 am
  • Hot Shay

    Sweet Moses, could you imagine Ocracoke in the jam-packed business of summer… with literal boatloads of tourists getting funneled in like cattle to the epicenter of town? And “trams”? You can barely walk around as is because it’s so overcrowded. I get why people are moving off the island now… out of coastal Hyde and Dare counties altogether. Overpromoting the heck out of this place will be its demise.

    Monday, May 21 @ 8:43 am
  • Bob

    Obxguy – next time you are traveling to or from VA, take the “last exit before toll” and take the old road until you are past the toll booths. Doesn’t take much longer, and costs way less…especially if you travel on summer weekends when they jack up the rates.

    Monday, May 21 @ 9:36 am
  • Manteoer

    Yall are all fools for thinking that boat would be done in the spring. A 90 passanger ferry built in 6 months. Haha
    This ferry isn’t gonna be free like some fools think from what a read here. It is a good means of moving people, it’s done all over the world. And there’s plans for ferrys traveling the albemarle and Pamlico songs as well. So get your facts straight so your not babbling on and on. I love oakracoke and I love where I live. Why do yall think these people like to come here anyway?

    Monday, May 21 @ 8:07 pm
  • Sam Walker

    It should be noted, there will be a charge to use the passenger ferry.

    Monday, May 21 @ 8:17 pm
  • Manteoer

    1 more thing to the ferry division. You better plan on more bike racks. 16 isn’t enough

    Monday, May 21 @ 8:10 pm
  • Manteoer

    To ncdot. The contract involving this passanger ferrys schedule. Is there a failure to preform clause in the contract that states the manufacturer must pay fine if not done by a certain completion date. If not be sure to get one next time so they think long and hard. About man power and getting the job done. It’s only business!!!

    Tuesday, May 22 @ 6:54 am