Creeping across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at two miles an hour on a hot Sunday evening is enough to make all pleasant memories of a weekend at the beach disappear. I often drive in the right-hand lane so I can at least enjoy the view. How I envy the freedom of movement of the boats below me! How I wish I could be with them!
Maryland has spent millions of dollars to revitalize the Chesapeake Bay, yet few urban commuters appreciate one of our nation's greatest natural resources. To many, the bay is just another body of water to be crossed on the way to Rehoboth Beach or Ocean City.
With modern, efficient ferry service, the weekend commute could become a mini-vacation in itself. For example, a hydrofoil 100-car ferry crossing from the Chesapeake Beach area in Calvert County to the Cambridge area in Dorchester County would cut travel time to Ocean City by 30 to 50 minutes under normal conditions. I can imagine standing on a breezy, cool deck as we cruise by Thomas Point lighthouse. While someone else works at transporting my car and me, I am enjoying a panoramic view of the eastern and western shores.
The advantages of a comprehensive ferry system go beyond alleviating Bay Bridge summer weekend traffic crunches. Ferries would attract tourism. They would stimulate economic growth on the lower Eastern Shore. They would provide year-round commuter services. They would provide more route options than a second bridge across the bay. They would cost a fraction of the amount projected for the building of a new bridge. They could be owned and operated by the private sector with only minimal public investment.
A ferry system could be in place within 12 months. A bridge, if we start today, will take at least 12 years to complete. A ferry system with regular year-round scheduled service would cost 10 percent of the projected cost of a new bridge (currently $800 million-plus). Tariffs could be set to cover all operating costs and still save the consumer money in terms of gasoline, tolls, wear and tear of his automobile.
Most existing ferries are profitable. I can think of several major systems worth studying. Certainly the Seattle-Puget Sound system cannot be rivaled for scenic beauty. The Star Ferry in Hong Kong is one of the most charming. The Weehauken, N.J., ferry is one of the newest and most modern. The Staten Island Ferry is one of the most utilized. The White's Ferry on the Potomac is one of the most historic. The English Channel system is one of the most economically vital.
Only Maryland of all the East Coast states does not have a major ferry system. We do have ferries, most dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. There is White's Ferry between Montgomery County and Virginia. There are the Whitehaven, the Upper and Oxford/Belleview ferries on the Eastern Shore. There are the Smith Island and Tangier Island mailboats from Crisfield.
But we have no modern system on the Chesapeake Bay using recent technology and moving large numbers of people and cars.
Several entrepreneurs are exploring service from Baltimore City to Rock Hall, from Annapolis to Kent Island, from Solomons to Dorchester and from below Indian Head to Washington on the Potomac.
Two systems are ready to begin this summer on a small scale. One will use hydrofoils, the other, traditional diesel craft. Since I began talking about establishing ferry service on the bay, dozens of individuals have contacted my office simply indicating support, seeking ways to invest directly or volunteering their services.
In accordance with his "do-it-now" approach, Gov. Schaefer has asked the newly established Task Force on Chesapeake Bay Ferries, chaired by the secretary of transportation, to make proposals and examine what the state must do to support a system.
With public support, we should be able to crisscross the bay with fast, efficient service in the very near future. I am looking forward to traveling to and from the beach on the water at an enjoyable pace and no longer standing in unbearable traffic 100 feet above the water. -- Judith C. Toth is a member of the House of Delegates from Montgomery County.