ODOT, PBOT ship more cash to Willamette River ferry project
The proposal to add passenger ferry service to the Willamette River continues to chug forward, with its backers saying the project is on track to open as soon as spring 2023.
It's been 15 months since Frog Ferry founder Susan Bladholm made a splash by going public with the idea, though she still hasn't nailed down exactly where passengers would hop aboard or disembark.
"Once we start the service, it's fairly easy to scale," Bladholm said during a press conference at the Portland Business Alliance's 14th-floor offices in downtown Portland.
But Bladholm did have news to share, including that the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Portland Bureau of Transportation have granted Frog Ferry a combined $240,000 in order to fund a feasibility and financing study.
It's a soft step of support in the courtship dance between Bladholm and the public agencies, status TBD, that would own the vessels and ensure they run on time. The Friends of Frog Ferry nonprofit also recently received a large "capacity building" grant from a supporter whose identity remains under wraps.
"Local transit agencies have acknowledged that the river provides a viable mode of transportation," Bladholm said, "but they can't take the lead on this, and they've asked us to do it, so we are."
One public supporter is Charlene Zidell, whose family owns 33 acres on the Willamette. Zidell bemoaned the hassle of getting in her car, driving along Front Avenue, snaking across a bridge — and then finding a place to park — just to visit the Moda Center or OMSI.
"By this time, I'm completely stressed out, my neck is hurting, and I get to the event and I don't even want to be there anymore," Zidell said. "The Frog Ferry is the answer to my dreams."
Frog Ferry documents state that launching with four low-slung passenger ferries would remove 5,360 commuter vehicles from metro area roads and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 22,126 metric tons a year.
Ticket prices are estimated at $5.50 daily, or $125 a month. Up to 80% of the proposal's start-up costs could come from federal coffers, while operating costs are pegged at $1 million yearly.
The boats are likely to have slots for at least 15 bikes and sell coffee (or perhaps beer), though Bladholm doesn't envision building parking at more than one or two of the nine proposed stops in Vancouver, Cathedral Park, the Convention Center, downtown Portland, OHSU, Milwaukie, Lake Oswego and Oregon City.
The Tribune reported last year that lack of parking could doom a proposed gangplank across state lines. Bladholm, however, now says Vancouver is adding 2,000 new parking stalls as part of the new waterfront project east of the Interstate 5 bridge.
"This is not only possible," Bladholm said, "but we're getting closer."
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