Ferry proposal to link Md., Va. to resurface in Assembly

Boosting tourism, cutting travel time among goals

January 04, 2003|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

Thwarted on last year's final day of the legislature, boosters of a Chesapeake Bay ferry say they're heading back to the General Assembly next week - this time with a proposal for service that would link Crisfield on the Eastern Shore with Reedville on Virginia's Northern Neck.

Leaders of the Chesapeake Fast Ferry Coalition, a year-old group that has raised nearly $100,000 to lobby for a midbay crossing, say they'll seek legislation allowing Somerset County on the Lower Eastern Shore to negotiate a franchise agreement with one of three independent ferry operators who are interested in the project.

A proposal for three-way service linking the Lower Eastern Shore with St. Mary's County and Reedville failed last year during the last-minute crush of legislation. Southern Maryland officials backed away from the plan, which had never identified a landing site on the western shore.

FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday on proposals for ferry service between the eastern and western shores of the Chesapeake Bay incorrectly stated the number of possible routes under consideration by the state and the date for the release of a feasibility study. The Maryland Department of Transportation is considering 16 route combinations and expects to release a feasibility study in late spring or early summer.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Despite that setback - and a delay in completion of a state transportation study of possible Maryland ferry port sites - supporters say they are confident that lawmakers will go along this time.

"People have been talking about this since the '50s, and we're ready to go ahead," said C. Frederick Lankford, the coalition's chairman. "If there are concerns in St. Mary's County, we're prepared to bypass a three-way ferry operation, at least for the time being."

Lankford - who operates Lankford-Sysco, a food distribution company that is Somerset County's largest employer - says county officials are considering creating a county port authority to handle negotiations with prospective ferry operators.

Del.-elect Page Elmore, who will begin his first term next week, says he will sponsor a bill that he thinks will give Crisfield and county officials enough flexibility to get started.

"With Southern Maryland out of the picture, it looks good," Elmore said. "We're not asking for any money, just the right for Somerset to negotiate a franchise. It'll be up to the ferry coalition, the county and Crisfield where it goes from here."

In the meantime, Maryland Department of Transportation officials - who have long sought a bay crossing to ease Bay Bridge congestion - say they will release a $178,000 feasibility study of ferry service early in the new year.

After considering 59 possible landing site on both sides of the bay, MDOT has whittled down the list to four pairings, according to department spokeswoman Erin Henson.

Officials on the Lower Shore have long viewed ferry service in Crisfield as a chance to turn around a sagging economy in Somerset County, linking the state's poorest county with tourists and business travelers.

Supporters envision a new hotel and a small waterfront conference center among the possibilities for Crisfield, where the seafood industry has declined for decades.

Lankford said his company - as well as others with large truck fleets, such as Perdue Farms Inc. - could use the sleek 40- to 60-vehicle ferries and cut travel time from 2 1/2 hours to 30 minutes from their plants on the Eastern Shore.

"Somerset could definitely use the boost, but it would be an opportunity for Worcester to increase tourism, and might be an opportunity for Wicomico," said Michael P. Pennington, executive director of the Tri-County Council, a regional economic development agency.

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