Monday, March 1, 2021
March 1, 2021

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In Our View: Ferry no replacement for revamped I-5 Bridge

The Columbian

To their credit, Friends of Frog Ferry have done their homework. But some basic eighth-grade math reveals that a proposed ferry between Vancouver and Portland might be an attractive idea but does not add up to a transportation solution in the region.

Friends of Frog Ferry, a nonprofit group, this week took another step toward a water taxi service along the Columbia and Willamette rivers. Members unveiled a feasibility study and financing plan for their proposal that eventually could include a ferry between Vancouver and downtown Portland.

The proposal could add an attractive alternative to the laborious endeavor of driving on the region’s freeways. There is something enticing about enjoying the scenery along the rivers rather than glaring at the brake lights of the car in front of you.

The plan is to have two ferry lines — one between Vancouver and Portland, along both rivers, and the other between Portland and Oregon City on the Willamette. A trip from Vancouver to Portland — likely starting at Terminal 1 at the foot of the Interstate 5 Bridge — would take about 55 minutes, including a stop at Cathedral Park in North Portland.

The feasibility study suggests that the idea will require $40 million in startup costs and $6.8 million for operating expenses. Regular passenger tickets would be $5, and Friends of Frog Ferry founder Susan Bladholm said the group would seek a $2.5 million annual subsidy to help cover operating costs.

The passenger ferries — they would not carry vehicles — would transport 70 to 100 passengers, depending on the size of the vessel. Overall, organizers said, they could move about 3,000 per day.

That is where some math comes in. The Interstate 5 Bridge carries about 130,000 vehicles a day, and the Interstate 205 Bridge has roughly the same amount. Even the most robust water taxi service will have a minimal impact on traffic throughout the metro area. For recreational purposes, the ferry service sounds enjoyable; for a transportation solution, it is irrelevant.

So, while we encourage the Friends of Frog Ferry to continue pursuit of their endeavor, we implore officials in both Washington and Oregon to move forward on replacing the I-5 Bridge. And devising plans for additional Columbia River crossings. And expanding vehicle capacity through the Rose Quarter corridor in the heart of Portland.

Outsized solutions are required to fix a transportation problem that has hampered the region’s economy for far too long.

INRIX, an analysis firm based in Kirkland, has determined that the Portland urban area has the eighth-worst traffic among U.S. cities, with the average commuter losing 89 hours a year to congestion. That loss adds up to increased gasoline consumption, delays in the transport of goods and services, and endless aggravation for motorists. And the roughly 70,000 Clark County residents who work in Oregon feel that impact as much as anybody.

Getting people out of their cars by providing transportation alternatives is one strategy for reducing congestion, but it also is Pollyannaish. The only real solution is to increase vehicle capacity throughout the region, and an improved I-5 Bridge should be ground zero for any such proposals.

A ferry between Vancouver and Portland is a nice idea that will add to the character of the region and improve the cultural connection between the cities. There is value in that. But as a transportation solution, it amounts to an analgesic when surgery is necessary.