Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Dec. 2, 2020

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Group completes Frog Ferry water taxi study, eyes Vancouver’s Terminal 1

By , Columbian business reporter

Friends of Frog Ferry, the nonprofit group working to bring a water taxi service to the Portland area, announced Tuesday that it had finished an operational feasibility study and finance plan including some basic cost and timeline estimates for development of the service.

The group hopes to launch an initial proof-of-concept route in 2022 that would not include Vancouver, but the plan calls for the city to join the route a couple years later.

The study includes Vancouver as part of the line’s “core route,” serving as its northern terminus.

Friends of Frog Ferry founder Susan Bladholm and consultant John Sainsbury outlined the results of the study at a virtual press conference Tuesday morning, along with the group’s plans for developing the 26.1-nautical mile route.

The envisioned route along the Willamette and Columbia rivers would be divided into two sections — an “upper river” portion that would run between downtown Portland and Oregon City (or possibly just Lake Oswego at first) and a “lower river” section that would run between Portland and Vancouver.

“One of the first things we realized in doing our route assessment is those two sections of the river, the lower river and the upper river, are very different,” Sainsbury said.

The upper river section would use shorter, more maneuverable vessels due to the area’s constrained geography and higher river traffic levels. Both routes would use low-wake “catamaran”-style hulls, in single-deck configurations in order to fit under Portland’s Steel Bridge without needing a bridge lift.

A trip from Vancouver to Portland would take about 55 minutes, Sainsbury said, including a stop at Cathedral Park in North Portland, or 44 minutes on a direct “express” trip, which Bladholm said the service could potentially include.

The study found that the line would require seven vessels — six for the upper river route, two for the lower river and one as a backup. Vessels on each route section would operate with 30-minute headways. The ferries would carry 70 or 100 passengers, depending on the size, which the group claimed would translate to moving about 3,000 passengers per day.

The service would cost $40 million to start up, according to the study, with about $6.8 million in operating costs — or about $8.50 per passenger. Regular passenger tickets would be priced at $5, Bladholm said, and a $2.5 million annual subsidy would be needed to cover the remainder of the operational costs.

Bladholm said the group’s next steps will be to develop an operational plan and map out funding opportunities. The nonprofit hopes to win federal funding for the project, which would require partnering with a public agency that could receive the funds.

The goal would be to plan out the pilot version of the service, which would only run as far north as Cathedral Park in Portland, next year and bring it online in 2022, Bladholm said, with full-route service targeted to begin in 2024.

The feasibility study identified Terminal 1 as an ideal location for a Vancouver ferry stop, although it states that the terminal’s current dock would need major modifications such as a physical extension with a ferry-only landing zone and a new ADA-compliant access ramp. The report estimated the total cost of the modifications at $725,000.

Some of the needed improvements, such as enhanced pedestrian access to the dock area, will happen as part of the Port of Vancouver’s planned redevelopment of Terminal 1. The study report indicates that the ferry supporters are hoping that the remaining improvements can be added to the scope of the redevelopment project.

“We have been in conversations with the Friends of Frog Ferry and while Terminal 1 is not part of Frog Ferry’s initial launch, we will continue to stay engaged with Friends of Frog Ferry and monitor the progress of this interesting project,” port spokeswoman Therese Lang said in a statement. “It’s too early for us to make any commitments at this stage, especially because the port is so focused on the construction of the landing project at this time. But we are looking forward to seeing how the Frog Ferry project evolves and will look for potential opportunities to partner with the Friends of Frog Ferry in the future.”