The Pentagon's recommendation in May to move thousands of jobs to Fort Belvoir has Charles County's leaders dreaming of ferries to whisk commuters across the Potomac River to work less than two miles away.
Last week, the Charles commissioners floated the idea of a ferry service that would embark from the Bryans Road area. They hope to take cars off congested roads and keep highly paid residents from moving out of the county.
Wayne Cooper (D-At Large), president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, expressed concern Monday that the proposed shift to Fort Belvoir of 18,400 military and contract jobs from throughout the region could "create a mountain of traffic and more gridlock."
By car, the commute to Fort Belvoir, in Fairfax County, is, at best, a 28-mile, 45-minute trek up Route 210 and across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
By ferry, the 11/4-mile crossing could take 10 minutes at a speed of 10 mph, according to an estimate by the Coast Guard.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who participated in a discussion of the ferry with the commissioners, called it a "worthwhile idea we ought to investigate" and suggested that the county team with Prince George's in its plans for the National Harbor, a development on the Potomac that may offer water taxi service to the District.
As early as the 17th century, ferryboats crossed the Potomac from Virginia to Charles County at Maryland Point -- the southern tip of western Charles -- as part of the stagecoach route connecting Williamsburg to Philadelphia.
More recently, the region's leaders have considered aquatic alternatives to clogged roads. But the talk has largely resulted in shelved studies.
The District's Transportation Department is exploring ferry service along the Anacostia and Potomac. In 2000, Virginia transportation planners studied the demand for Potomac ferry routes between Woodbridge and the Navy Yard and between Woodbridge, Fort Washington and the Pentagon. But the idea faded largely because financing was not available.
Jason Groth, a Charles County transportation planner who followed the talks, said the challenges include attracting a private company to operate the boats, linking ferry ports to bus or rail service, and ensuring reliable schedules and affordable rates.
Two years ago, a private ferry operator approached St. Mary's County about a potential route from Piney Point to the Northern Neck of Virginia. That too fizzled.
Since then, Virginia has moved ahead with plans for ferry service from Reedville to Crisfield on the Eastern Shore in Somerset County. The route, which has been talked about for decades, would carry tourists and commercial trucks.
"We have just about studied this thing to death," said Jerry W. Davis, executive director of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission. Still, Davis said, he is hopeful that one more study of the potential economic benefits will make the case for federal and other funding.
John Savich, director of economic development for St. Mary's County, is monitoring that effort to see whether a stop in his county would make sense.
Commuting by ferry has been successful in urban areas such as New York's Staten Island, San Francisco and Seattle.
"The challenge is having enough of a population base to make it financially feasible," Savich said. "It's tougher when you're more rural and spread out. But I think someday one of these proposals will work out."
Ronald Kirby, director of transportation planning for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said the Charles County-to-Fort Belvoir proposition has potential because of the short distance and lack of other commuting options.
"The key is finding a niche market where ferry service would be in a strong competitive position in terms of travel time and cost," Kirby said. "That's where this idea looks interesting."
To take effect, the Pentagon's recommendations for Fort Belvoir must be approved by Congress and the president as part of a review process now underway.
Richard Arndt, a Fort Belvoir spokesman, said the post has a recreational marina for private boats, but "it is way too early in the process for us to be looking at where a ferry might dock.''
Planners are exploring an extension of light rail from Metro's Blue line to the main post. But Arndt called it "way too premature to even be investing a lot of time studying things that may or may not be necessary."