D.C.’s First Blue Highway

Courtesy of washington.org

By Eva Lynch

The many rivers of the DMV area are often overlooked as viable highways of transportation. But, the proposed D.C. commuter ferry system would permanently change this oversight, according to Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi.

According to current plans, the proposed ferry will service from Woodbridge, Virginia, to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Department of Transportation has named this new water highway the “M-495.”

The average workday in D.C. is often bookended by two long, tedious, tiresome, and annoying rush-hour commutes home. According to the most recent available studies, Washington, D.C. ranks third in traffic congestion, above even New York City, citing that Washington drivers spend 102 hours a year sitting in traffic. 

According to Principi, the time and cost of a commute from Virginia to the District would be significantly decreased. Along with the beautiful shoreline view, commuters have long awaited these promised benefits since the M-495 was identified as a viable marine highway in 2013.

Principi’s ideal realization of this project includes 350-passenger fast ferries, an $18 round trip, leather reclining seats, a Starbucks coffee bar for the morning commute, and a cash bar stocked with beer and wine on the way home.

Many opposers of the commuter ferry, including Alexandria’s City Manager Mark Jinks and Transportation Director Yon Lambert, wonder if it would actually be used, an obstacle which has been overcome by eight studies which support the ferry’s economic viability. According to Principi, these studies show that the ferry would garner sufficient ridership to support the projected initial cost of $75-$100 million as well as future maintenance costs.

The next step towards the commuter ferry is a plan for oversight. This task was delegated to the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and public transportation agency OmniRide, and they are working with a group of stakeholders comprised of 40 different organizations, which share the vision of elevating the District’s underused water highways, according to OmniRide. Until December 13, this group is accepting applications from businesses with experience with facilitating and overseeing this kind of ferry.

This group is also working with already established ferry services to learn more about identified primary routes as well as about potential future stops, which currently include Reagan National Airport and Old Town Alexandria among others. According to an email from Bob Schneider, executive director at OmniRide, this information gathering is crucial in fully understanding the issues with and necessities of operating a ferry service in Northern Virginia. 

The launch of this ferry service is projected to be sometime in 2021, but Schneider notes this is entirely dependent on the level of interest expressed by the private sector and a more in depth analysis of necessary and available public funding, as the project is still in its preliminary stages. The proposed ferry has come a long way since its original proposal, as Frank Principi said, “We have turned a corner when it comes to commuter passenger ferry service on the Occoquan, Potomac and Anacostia rivers.”

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