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Correction to This Article
A previous version of this article said the ferry would travel at an average of 30 knots an hour. This version has been corrected to say the ferry would travel an average of 30 knots.
Potomac Ferry Would Need $20 Million, Report Finds

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Potomac River ferry could cut travel time significantly for some Washington commuters but would require local jurisdictions to find at least $20 million to fund it, according to a report released Tuesday.

The commuter ferry feasibility study was funded by a $225,000 grant from the Virginia Transportation Department and prepared for the Prince William Board of County Supervisors by the consulting firm Greenhorne & O'Mara.

"It's not like we are pulling our checkbook out today," said Prince William Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge), who has spearheaded the effort. "We still have homework to do, but I think a commuter ferry is a viable option in the region."

On Tuesday night, the supervisors unanimously endorsed the study and directed county staff members to explore ways to pay for an analysis to determine how many people would ride the ferry and how the service would affect mass transit.

"We are not interested in competing with the [Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission] or the Virginia Railway Express, but we are looking to provide an additional transportation option," Principi said. "Our intent is not to take people off buses and trains but off Interstate 95."

The study says the ferry would have competitive pricing and service when compared with VRE and the PRTC. Ferry times were determined after a 149-seat ferry boat ran test trips during several days in May. Consultants said ferry service between Maryland and Virginia could reduce some cross-river trips from two hours to less than 20 minutes, such as a route between Fort Belvoir and Indian Head.

The ferry-commuting estimates include:

-- Indian Head to Fort Belvoir; eight miles; 14 minutes.

-- Marshall Hall to Fort Belvoir; three miles; seven minutes.

-- Occoquan Harbour Marina to Anacostia; 30 miles; 58 minutes.

-- Prince William Marina to Reagan National Airport; 28 miles; 66 minutes.

The running times assume that the ferry would travel an average of 30 knots and that no-wake restrictions in Old Town Alexandria and along the Anacostia River would be lifted, said Cody Smith, a spokesman for Greenhorne & O'Mara.

Operating a ferry from the Woodbridge area to Washington would cost almost $4 million annually, the study says, and service from Fort Belvoir to Marshall Hall would cost about $3 million. Before the ferry can begin operating, however, localities must make nearly $30 million in capital improvements along the Woodbridge to D.C. route or about $20 million in improvements for service from Virginia to Maryland. Improvements would include docks, parking lots, ticketing centers and the purchase of six boats, the report says.

The study projects that if 141,300 passengers ride annually and fare prices are about $11 round-trip -- comparable to VRE's fares -- ticket revenue would generate about $2 million, which would cover about 50 percent of annual operating costs. By comparison, the Potomac Riverboat carries about 115,000 passengers annually between Alexandria and National Harbor on its river taxi service and charges $16 round-trip, said company owner Willem Polak.

The ferries would ideally make an average of 20 trips daily, five days a week, although fog, ice, high waves or river debris could affect the number, the study says. But Greenhorne officials said that all commuter services encounter problems and that with plush seats, a concession stand and wireless Internet service, the ferries could provide a pleasant commute.

The study now moves to the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments for review, Principi said. After that, a regional committee, which could have representatives from the military, private agencies and local jurisdictions, would begin looking for funding for the project.

"I'm excited and think this [ferry service] is very feasible," Principi said. "We just need to look at this as a regional transportation effort with regional sources of funding."

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