The federal government awarded the Northern Virginia Regional Commission $3.38 million this week to buy two ferries to move passengers from Alexandria to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Southeast Washington.
The money will create new options for thousands of military and federal employees traveling to the base and to the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus, where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to place its headquarters, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration said in its award notice.
NVRC Executive Director Mark Gibb said the money was not unexpected but that he hadn’t yet been notified of it. The FTA notice said the ferry service would start at Jones Point Park, but Gibb said that wasn’t certain.
“We don’t have the money to operate these things yet, and there are environmental studies to be done,” he said. “We need to find out more information about this, but we are moving forward.”
Northern Virginia transit officials have long hoped to create a robust series of water ferries to alleviate transit congestion on the trains, subways and highways across the Washington region.
In the fall, the NVRC heard a consultant’s report that such routes were economically viable, although operating costs would be about $6.4 million per year without taking into account the cost of terminals, docks, dredging or land transportation connections.
The money is part of the FTA’s $123 million in grants for passenger ferry projects and ferry operators, $60 million of which is in competitive funds for 26 projects in 13 states and Puerto Rico, including the Alexandria-to-D.C. ferry.
Gibb said that the actual operation is probably one to three years away.
“I think this is very exciting,” Gibb said. “This is the first step in a new transportation mode for the metro area. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and we want to take advantage of it. Before, we were dead in the water, if I may say so, and now it has life again.”