The new passenger-only ferry that the state expected would begin carrying people between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands this summer won't be ready after all.
The catamaran-style ferry was expected to begin making runs between the two islands in mid-July. But the company building the ferry, US Workboats in Hubert, near Swansboro, has had trouble finding enough workers in specialized trades, especially certified marine welders, and has fallen behind schedule, said Tim Hass, spokesman for the Ferry Division of the N.C. Department of Transportation.
The M/V Ocracoke Express is now expected to be finished in September. After sea trials and other tests, the ferry should be ready to begin carrying passengers between Hatteras and the ferry terminal at Silver Lake in Ocracoke village by the end of the year, Hass said.
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"We’re disappointed that the project won’t be ready for this year’s tourist season," he said by email. "But it does give us a chance to have a 'soft launch' this year before going to a full schedule next season."
The Ocracoke Express will be able to seat 98 people inside and another 26 outside, with racks for 12 bicycles. It will include the first snack bar on a state ferry, and NCDOT has asked the legislature to let it sell beer and wine on board. A round-trip ticket will cost $15.
State officials and Ocracoke businesses hope the ferry will help make up for a drop in passengers after the state ferry system reduced the number of car ferry trips between Hatteras and Ocracoke several years ago. Shoaling in Hatteras Inlet has forced the car ferries to take a longer route into Pamlico Sound, reducing the number of runs by 20 percent, according to Jed Dixon, the deputy director of the ferry division.
The passenger-only ferry will cost about $9.1 million to get up and running, including additional parking on Hatteras and a new floating dock and passenger shelter on Ocracoke. The ferry itself will cost about $4.34 million.
The parking and terminal facilities are nearly complete, the ferry division said Friday. Four trams that will carry visitors on a half-hour loop around Ocracoke Village will be delivered to Hyde County by the end of July, and will likely be put to use before the Ocracoke Express goes into service.