Transportation leaders came forward to speak about a potential fast ferry service for the Woodbridge-area at the Fast Ferry Summit.
Hosted at the Harbour Marina, the summit brought together several individuals from the transportation industry to speak about the feasibility of fast ferry service as a commuting solution.
The panelists included Deputy Director of the Risk Analysis Division for the United States Department of Homeland Security Captain James Bamberger, Director of the Office of Marine Highways and Passenger Services for the U.S. Maritime Administration Scott Davies, Principal of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associations Tim Payne, and Consultant for Entertainment Cruises’ Potomac Riverboats Division Willem Polak.
“[This is] an opportunity to bring together the subject matter experts from business and government, from the military and academia, and the general public to begin – or continue – to discuss what it’s going to take to launch fast ferry service out of the Occoquan and into the Potomac and all the way to the Anacostia River, and the national capital area here,” said Supervisor Frank Principi.
Principi spoke about how Woodbridge has been used as a crossing for several hundred years, citing George Mason’s own fast ferry service in the area in the 1760s.
Recent findings from the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) state that two-thirds of Woodbridge residents leave the area to go to work, and with Metro service being extended to Prince William County not considered an upcoming reality, Principi stated that he sees it as an interim solution.
“I see fast ferry service as an interim step, an interim solution [to bringing Metro to Prince William,” said Principi. He has hopes that the ferry service could be operating in the area within the next few years.
According to Polak, there would need to be an initial investment of around $15 million – $10 million to build a 300 to 400-passenger ferry boat and $5 million for infrastructure for the terminal – but if that investment were made, passengers could get from Woodbridge to the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. in under an hour.
Bamberger shared his experiences as a resident of the area since the 90s, stating that over the years travel times have increased and congestion has worsened. While Bamberger feels that ferries are a viable option, one of the biggest challenges will be changing people’s attitudes and commuting behavior.
“People are – especially in this area – they, within reason, they’re willing to pay for time saving. Time’s important for all of us…here [ferry’s] new. Behavioral challenges is a difficulty. It’s tough to get people to change. It’s tough to get people out of their cars, into another mode,” said Bamberger.
For Davies, the main mission behind his work is to get people to make better use of waterways for transportation.
“As we build more roads, and we build more rail lines – and we can only afford to pay for so much – and as our population grows, the demands on our transportation system grow, it really makes sense to use our waterways,” said Davies.
Davies stressed that in order for a ferry to work in Woodbridge, working together in a partnership and making ferry fare competitive with other commuter modes is crucial.
“I can’t imagine a more pleasant way to get to work, than to have what most people consider – a lot of people pay a lot of money for, just to go for a boat ride – to do that every day,” said Davies.
Payne said that while some sites are fully developed, NVRC is still looking at the best terminal locations to bring the ferry service to Woodbridge. The organization has been studying ferries as a mode of transit for the Northern Virginia area as a whole.
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