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Grants for ferry service give Americans the transportation options they need

Grants for ferry service give Americans the transportation options they need

As more Americans commute without a car, the Department of Transportation is working hard to help get them where they need to go. For most transit commuters, bus or rail make the most sense, but in many communities, ferry service plays an important role. And larger ferries, capable of carrying vehicles, can even help folks who drive get across waterways to their destination.

That's why Congress authorized the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) MAP-21 Passenger Ferry Grant Program and the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Ferry Boat and Ferry Terminals Facilities Program. And last week, the FTA and FHWA announced the award and distribution of approximately $123.5 million for passenger ferry projects and ferry operators across the country.

Photo of Puget Sound ferry

These grants will support existing ferry service on many of the nation’s waterways; establish new ferry service where it is needed most; and help to repair and modernize ferry boats, terminals, and related facilities that thousands of residents in these communities depend on. FTA is providing $60 million in competitive funds for 26 projects in 13 states and Puerto Rico, and the FHWA is providing $63.5 million to 114 operators in 37 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Passenger ferries play an important role in our nation’s transportation network by connecting people with the jobs and services they need to reach across the river, the bay, or other local waterway. Fast Lane readers are probably familiar with well-known fleets like the Puget Sound ferries operating around Seattle and New York Harbor's NJ Transit ferries.

But many might not know about the Elizabeth River Ferry transporting thousands of passengers each year between the downtown centers of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia. And they might not know about the Channel Cat that plies the Mississippi River near Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, or the Harris County ferries that carry thousands across the Houston Ship Channel in Texas.

Photo of Harris County ferry in Texas

The Harris County ferry--founded in 1822--has been operating continually for nearly two centuries, and we at DOT think that's pretty impressive. But if our surface transportation funding expires or the Highway Trust Fund runs out, America's ferries could be left high and dry. That's why, as Secretary Foxx said, “We need Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill so we can continue to invest in ferry boat services that provide ladders of opportunity for hard-working families.”

GROW AMERICA, the legislative proposal that Secretary Foxx sent to Congress earlier this spring will do exactly that. Investing in ferry service and in the roads, rails, and buses that connect Americans to jobs, education, and other destinations is critical if we want to keep our economy growing and our nation moving forward.

But short-term extensions and piecemeal policy will not get the job done. We need Congress to act in a way that allows states, transit agencies, and--yes--ferry operators to plan more than three or six months ahead.

America's future is riding on it.

Therese McMillan is Deputy Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration. Greg Nadeau is Deputy Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

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We are working with Ferry Boat Operators on the Marine Highway to secure grants to assist in repowering their old unregulated egines. Who should we talk to obtain more details?
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