- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Residents on the North Carolina coast are lining up in opposition to the plan by the N.C. Department of Transportation to apply tolls on previously free ferry routes and raise prices on others.

The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk reports (http://bit.ly/1bzpv1G) the first of the hearings in Knotts Island nearly filled a gymnasium at an elementary school. Throughout the two-hour hearing, the crowd spoke against the tolls.

New or higher tolls are proposed for all seven of North Carolina’s ferry routes. New tolls would range from $1 for a pedestrian to $28 for a large multi-axle truck. The average passenger vehicle would be charged $7. Annual passes would be available.

State lawmakers last year mandated that new ferry acquisitions be funded through tolling, advertising and concessions.

Before the proposal, ferries to Knotts Island and Ocracoke have been toll free.

“I do not believe the residents of this island can afford this tax toll,” resident Terry King said at Tuesday’s hearing. “I already pay taxes.”

King said he has two trucks, a Jeep, a van and a motor home. His granddaughter attends college and works in Elizabeth City. She makes about $7 an hour after taxes. A round trip on the ferry will cost her two hours of wages a day, he said.

Knotts Island students ride the ferry daily to school. Buses would be exempt, but students, coaches and teachers who stay for after-school activities would have to pay tolls. An alternate is to drive an hour on narrow roads winding through southern Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.

Ocracoke residents and visitors have no other way there but ferries, said Darlene Styron, owner of Sweet Tooth and Fig Tree Deli on the island. She plans to attend the Ocracoke and Hatteras hearings next week. Fewer tourists will come if they have to pay $14 round-trip tolls, she said.

“Well, I’ll tell you, it will be a big economic impact on this island,” Styron said. “Eighty-five percent of my business is day-trippers. You cut that in half.”

NCDOT scheduled a hearing for Thursday at Pamlico Community College in Grantsboro.

In addition to next week’s hearings at Ocrocoke and Hatteras, another is planned for Morehead City. A hearing is slated for Southport on Feb. 18.

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Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com

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