A new state-sponsored study argues that a car-carrying ferry service would not by itself alleviate traffic on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge. It would also cost billions of dollars to build and operate.
The 43-page report by the Maryland Transportation Authority and state Department of Transportation concludes that a ferry service wouldn’t resolve traffic woes “as a standalone option.” At least one conservation group is skeptical of the state’s findings, saying it’s too early in the process to discount a ferry or any other option.
For their part, state transportation officials say that they’ll keep the idea simmering, though on the back burner. Ferries could be considered “in combination with other alternatives” if the process to construct a third span across the Bay moves forward, the agencies said in the report.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced in 2016 that the state would conduct a $5 million National Environmental Policy Act study to decide where a new Bay Bridge should be built. Backers say a new bridge is needed to ease gridlock during weekday rush hours and summer weekends. The backups are expected to worsen as the region’s population grows.
The Bay Bridge is part of U.S. Routes 50/301. It is the only Bay vehicular crossing in Maryland.
Last August, the MdTA, which owns and operates the Bay Bridge, proposed three possible routes for a new crossing as well as a “no-build” option. The agency plans to release a draft of the study and recommend a single preferred alternative by the end of this year.
|The Olympic Class ferry in Elliott Bay near Seattle’s Discovery Park|
Improvements in battery capacity and life have made electricity a more viable option than ever for ferries, according to the report.I wonder how thick the power cord is to recharge a 400 car ferry?
Around the globe, a handful of systems have begun adopting the technology in recent years. Those include the EF Ellen, a Danish ferry with a 26-mile range that began operating in early 2019; the Amherst Island ferry in Canada, which is expected to launch an electric watercraft this year; and the Washington State Ferries system, which has begun converting its fleet from diesels to hybrids.
The state staff who authored the new report sought to find out whether adding a ferry service could be the sole solution for maintaining the Bay Bridge’s current level of service despite heavier travel between the shores. Looking forward to the year 2040, that translates into removing nearly 900 vehicles from the span when traffic is expected to be at its worst, the agencies wrote.
The only way a ferry system could come within striking distance of that figure would be to have it run near the existing bridge, according to the report. To operate efficiently, the system would require three large vessels as well as a fourth for backup.
Each would have to be roomy enough to carry 400 vehicles. No electric ferries of that size exist. A hybrid ferry operating in Scandinavia, though, currently carries up to 460 vehicles.