SCOTLAND WHARF, VA. -- It's easy to tell the tourists from the local residents in the line of cars waiting for the lumbering Jamestown-Scotland Ferry.
The tourists smile, enjoy the view and remain unperturbed about the hour delay between ferry runs. The residents, usually one to a car, appear resigned and have something to read handy.
The four ferry boats, which travel a 15-minute, 2.2-mile route between Jamestown and Surry County every 30 minutes, constitute the last deep-water ferry operated by the state. The others vanished decades ago with the building of bridges over or tunnels under Virginia's major waterways, leaving four small cable-operated ferries: one near Charlottesville, two on the Northern Neck and the Jamestown ferry.
But the Jamestown ferry may shut down if the Virginia Department of Transporation's latest study finds that a bridge is feasible and can overcome objections from history lovers.
"I've been for a bridge for years," said Jesse Faulkcon, a Surry resident who has been riding the ferry since 1929, four years after it began operation. Faulkcon spends nearly two hours commuting to his job in Williamsburg; he estimates the trip would take 20 minutes if there were a bridge.
"I get very frustrated by the ferry," said Barbour Seward, who drives her daughter from Surry to a private school in Williamsburg. "This time of year, it gets bad," when tourists visiting Colonial Williamsburg join the commuters on the boats.
"We don't mind waiting. We're just here on holiday," said Chris Rijlaarsdam, a Canadian traveling with his wife and two friends. "To us, it's part of the fun."
Although the number of vehicles using the ferry has grown from 438,694 in 1983 to 546,516 last year, the ferry operates in the red: In 1986, it cost $2.1 million to run, with tolls bringing in only $446,500, according to W.E. Richardson, an assistant resident engineer with the Transportation Department.
The ferry has had its share of mishaps, from boats crashing into the docks to motorists driving off the dock after the ferry has left. Waterfront residents here complain that the boats' wakes are eroding their property.
A 1979 state study found that it would cost at least $24 million to replace the ferry with a bridge. The latest study picks up where that one left off and will determine whether a bridge should be built or ferries should be added, at a cost of about $7 million each, said Bill Worrell, a Transportation Department spokesman.
If a bridge is the choice, the project could face opposition from the National Park Service, which maintains Jamestown Island adjacent to the ferry. Park Service officials say tourists would have difficulty envisioning early 17th century Virginia if a bridge spanned the James River where English colonists landed in 1607.
"It would be a serious intrusion in the historical scene at Jamestown," said Wally Neprash, chief ranger for the Colonial National Historical Park. "If they put it further upriver, it wouldn't be as bad."
Officials in Surry County, a community of 6,200 people living amid peanut fields, hog farms and a Virginia Power nuclear plant, support a bridge to bring them closer to fast-growing Williamsburg.
"The ferry system as it's operated right now is inadequate to meet the needs of local residents," said Stephanie Edler, county administrator. "We're technically five minutes away, yet there are many delays because of the ferry."
Without the ferry, motorists must drive 62 miles to the Benjamin Harrison Bridge near Hopewell or 72 miles to the James River Bridge at Newport News.
Capt. Ray Ward, who began working for the ferry more than 30 years ago and now runs the operation, says he believes a bridge will be built in his lifetime:
"I wouldn't like to see the ferries go out. I don't want to see them go out anywhere, but they do, and it seems like maybe those places go on and do as well or maybe better than they did before. It's just a faster moving pace."