Artist's rendering of M/V Ocracoke Express.

Artist's rendering of M/V Ocracoke Express.

Money would be connected to passenger ferry service

With the help of Dare County and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Hatteras Village is hoping that the pending “Ocracoke Express” passenger ferry service is the lure that brings in a major federal grant to boost that community’s economy and ambiance.

      The BUILD [Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development] Grant — which provides a minimum award of $1 million — is “a grant program for transportation improvements,” according to Dare County Planning Director Donna Creef. The funds would be used to construct multiuse paths along NC 12 and Eagle Pass Road in Hatteras Village and to implement a tram system for use with the passenger ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, now expected to be running by the end of the year.

      At the Dare County Board of Commissioners July 16 meeting, the board authorized Creef to apply for that grant, which would be administered by the county — with the assistance of NCDOT.

      In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao supporting the project, NCDOT Secretary James Trogdon wrote that, "This project will provide 3.5 miles of pedestrian facilities connecting the Hatteras passenger ferry terminal to the Village of Hatteras and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and launch a fixed route transit system within the Village," that will help "create a more vibrant, walkable and livable community."

      Watching the July 16 commissioners meeting remotely from Buxton, Dare Planning Board Member and Hatteras Village resident Beth Midgett said the grant will "kick-start" the multi-use path project and "contribute not only to our safety, but to our overall economic recovery that still is continuing after Hurricane Matthew."

      At that meeting, Creef said she had been contacted by Albemarle Rural Planning Organization Planning Director Angela Welsh about the federal grant opportunity, adding that NCDOT was interested in encouraging both Dare and Hyde Counties to apply for funding related to the passenger ferry. 

      With Hatteras Village residents approving a “Pathway Referendum” in the May 8 election — endorsing a proposal to allocate previously collected tax funds from the Hatteras Village Community Center Special Tax District for the multi-use path project — Creef said, "They've been working on multi-use paths for some time, and so it was very fortuitous that we got that email [from Welsh]."

      Because Dare County qualifies as a "rural" community and has a population of less than 50,000, Creef said no matching funds would be required from the county. Welsh told the Sentinel that there is $1.5 billion available in federal funds overall and 30% of those funds must be awarded to rural projects.

      “They are looking for transportation related projects that have a local or regional impact," she added.

      Originally projected to start running this month, construction delays have pushed the expected debut of the $9 million Ocracoke-Hatteras passenger ferry — dubbed the "M/V Ocracoke Express”— to the end of this year. The 100-passenger, aluminum catamaran-style ferry has 96 interior seats, two wheelchair tie-downs, 16 bicycle racks, Wi-Fi, a concession area and an upper deck with 26 additional seats.

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Editor, Outer Banks Sentinel

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