A proposal for a ferry between Point Lookout in St. Mary's County and the Eastern Shore town of Crisfield may get a second chance after an initial rejection five years ago.
State Dels. John F. Wood Jr. (D-St. Mary's) and Charles A. McClenahan (R-Somerset) are researching the idea, inspired in part by recent demographic and economic changes in the region.
"Since 1994, there has been great change," McClenahan told the Associated Press. "It's only 25 miles apart, and there are a lot of economic opportunities. The economic situation was not as strong [then] as it is now."
Wood agreed, saying the two lawmakers are "looking at it to see if there's a possibility."
In 1994, the Maryland Department of Transportation conducted a feasibility study on private ferry service between Somerset County and Point Lookout, the southern tip of St. Mary's County. That study, like the current one, was requested by Wood and McClenahan. The department conducted a larger study of ferry service on the Chesapeake Bay in 1987, and that study included the Crisfield-Point Lookout idea. Neither study led to ferry service.
"At that time, it was found to be not economically viable," said state transportation spokesman Chuck Brown. "There were not enough tourists or commuters to support this service."
The 1994 proposal was for a private passenger-car ferry between Crisfield and Point Lookout, the site of a popular state park.
"The ferry operation requires tens of thousands of passengers to be financially viable, while the demand estimates are in thousands of passengers," the study said. "Clearly the numbers estimated from today's market and what may be expected in the future under current conditions do not provide any encouragement for further consideration of ferry service between Crisfield and Point Lookout."
But the recent growth in the Eastern Shore and in St. Mary's County--thousands of new jobs brought in recent years to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, a strong economy, a fledgling tourism industry in St. Mary's County and Crisfield's waterfront development plans--has rekindled the idea of connecting the two shores.
"All it is is just talk right now," Wood said.
But Wood and McClenahan are assembling an arsenal of information to present to the governor, the General Assembly and the Transportation Department. Wood said he also is studying ferry systems in Maine and Washington state.
"We can't say yes, and we can't say no until we get all the information together. We have to get the support of a lot of people," he said.
Wood said he is hopeful that the idea of a ferry will find supporters in the state.
"We have the idea of One-Maryland," Wood said, referring to the theme of the governor's effort to unite Maryland through transportation and economic development.
"From that we simply said, maybe this is something we can look at to bring Maryland close together. There's a little bit of interest," Wood said.
The Transportation Department has not received any proposals yet, but if it does, "we'd be more than happy to discuss this," Brown said.
For St. Mary's County, the idea of a ferry would fit nicely with its recent efforts to develop a viable tourism industry as a way of protecting its economy from an over-reliance on the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
"I think it's a wonderful idea to explore," said Board of Commissioners President Julie B. Randall (D-At Large). "Delegate Wood is exactly right. What we have to offer in St. Mary's County has changed significantly in the last five years. Tourism is high on our list of priorities."