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Ferry facilitates Columbia River crossings amid Lewis and Clark Bridge closure

Wahkiakum County Ferry crosses from Longview to Astoria

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 18, 2023, 6:08am
8 Photos
Zhong Deng of Seattle expected that surprises would pop up during his 75-day bike ride from Astoria to Yorktown, Va., but he didn't expect many before reaching the starting line.
Zhong Deng of Seattle expected that surprises would pop up during his 75-day bike ride from Astoria to Yorktown, Va., but he didn't expect many before reaching the starting line. (James Rexroad for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CATHLAMET — Zhong Deng expected that surprises would pop up during his 75-day bike ride from Astoria, Ore., to Yorktown, Va., but he didn’t expect many before reaching the starting line.

Biking down from Seattle, Deng was planning to cross the Lewis and Clark Bridge into Oregon, but he had to pivot after learning that the bridge was closed to most traffic for repairs. (After an eight-hour closure from Sunday night to Monday morning, the bridge has reopened to pedestrians and emergency vehicles.)

Deng’s options were limited.

He could continue on Highway 4 and brave it over the approximately 200-foot-high Astoria-Megler Bridge with no bike lanes, sidewalks or shoulders, go out of the way to Vancouver and cross at the Interstate 5 Bridge or take the Wahkiakum County Ferry located roughly between Longview and Astoria. The ferry was the nearest option.

And so he coasted down a grated ramp and onto the floating tarmac followed by 15 or so vehicles and a semitruck.

Oscar B.

The only ferry operating on the lower Columbia, the Wahkiakum County Ferry, also known as the Oscar B., runs between Cathlamet and Westport, Ore.

Typically, it makes one round-trip an hour and carries about 10 vehicles, according to Shawn Hill, who has worked on the Oscar B. for three years. It’s a quick and efficient trip, taking roughly 12 minutes to cross the Columbia and another 10 to unload and board.

Summer is the busiest time of the year, and despite the Lewis and Clark Bridge being closed to most vehicle traffic, Hill hasn’t noticed a significant uptick in crossings — granted, Hill had only been on the clock for five hours.

Although the wait times for the ferry weren’t significant at 9 a.m. on Monday, Mike Harte wanted to give themselves ample time. Harte was commuting from Washougal to the Wauna Paper Mill for a job. He arrived three hours before he needed to be there, just to be safe.

“I’ve taken the ferry across in the past, and it’s always been nice and easy,” he added.

While the Lewis and Clark Bridge is under construction until Monday, the ferry is operating 24 hours a day, making two round-trips per hour.

Due to the ferry’s limited capacity, trips should be reserved for urgent matters that do not require an ambulance, according to a Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson.

There is a priority lane to accommodate travelers with nonemergency medical needs, as well as first responders and health care workers.

Per trip, passenger vehicles cost $6, motorcycles cost $4, bikes cost $3 and pedestrians cost $2, however, passage is free of charge during construction on the bridge.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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