VDOT shouldn’t consider cutting vital ferry service

Published 9:34 am Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Editor’s note: The following was excerpted from Delegate William Barlow’s (D-Smithfield) remarks at a public hearing last Tuesday on the subject of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s proposed reduction in ferry services between Surry County (and other points south of the James River) and the Williamsburg area.

My position is that VDOT’s proposed significant reduction in ferry services across the James River between the Surry community and Williamsburg community should be cancelled and, therefore, never put into effect.

For some time, the transportation needs on both sides of the James River in these communities has not been as good as in many other areas of the state. For example, starting in the City of Richmond, you can cross the James River fast and free over several bridges. As you come south, south of Hopewell, you can cross fast and free on the Benjamin Harrison Bridge. Then, momentarily bypassing this area, you can cross fast and free on the James River Bridge between Newport News and Isle of Wight County.

Further, at the mouth of the James River, in Hampton Roads, you can cross fast and free on the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, as well as the Monitor Merrimac Bridge Tunnel. However, here in our area, we have to cross slow, and until a few years ago, actually had to pay a toll to slowly cross the river on the ferry.

I understand that VDOT officials accurately point out that the state legislature has not provided sufficient money to properly finance transportation operations such as this. However, I want to point out to you that in the special session in the summer of 2008, I was one of only 39 House of Delegates members who voted to increase revenues to VDOT for transportation purposes.

However, the 39 votes were significantly short of the 51 votes needed in the 100 person House of Delegates to provide this funding.

A large number of residents of Surry County and other communities south of the James River rely on the ferry to get to work, especially in the highly important tourism business on the Williamsburg side.

Further, a number of residents in the Williamsburg area and other points north of the James River rely on the ferry to get to work south of the James. In particular, many of the highly skilled workers at the Hog Island Nuclear Plant in Surry County live north of the James.

Hopefully there will never be an emergency in relation to that nuclear facility, but it is very important that those workers be able to get to Hog Island plant on a daily basis, and especially if an emergency occurred, which would endanger the lives of our citizens.

I strongly agree with the local elected officials who appear to be unanimous

in their opposition to the proposed significant reduction in ferry services for our citizens.

We realize that because increased revenue is not available, VDOT is having to make significant cuts. However, surely there must be many other areas within VDOT that could be cut — services that are not nearly as essential as are the ferry services for our citizens in this area.

Since the federal government is mandating the Commonwealth of Virginia to have adequate security in regard to the ferry service, it would appear there would be some federal stimulus money that could be available to keep the ferry services operating in a way that is most beneficial to our citizens.

Perhaps it would be a good idea for VDOT to contact the federal Department of Transportation regarding this and if you think it would be helpful, we as citizens could contact our Virginia Congressmen (in this region), and our two U. S. Senators, to try to get some federal stimulus money.

I think we can all see that this VDOT proposal should be immediately discarded so that the ferry operations will not only be maintained, but actually improved, for the benefit of the thousands of citizens who live in our area.