To some people, a ferry crossing sounds like a quaint throwback to an earlier time, before Maryland built the first bridge across the Chesapeake Bay in the 1950s. A second span went up in the 1970s, and now the Governor of Maryland, a road-warrior Republican, has the state’s transportation department studying when and where to build a third span. If it happens at all, the third span would cost anywhere from $5 billion to $10 billion, depending on when (and where) it is constructed. It could be one or two decades away. It’s a 20th Century idea in the 21st Century. In columns in The Baltimore Sun in March, I proposed battery-powered ferries instead of a third span because they are a real thing in the world now. In fact, the world’s largest all-electric ferry (see photo below) just made it’s maiden in Denmark. The battery technology continues to improve, making the deployment of electric ferries more feasible and practical. The state of Washington, under its climate change-focused Gov. Jay Inslee, is all over it. Inslee has called for $53 million to convert two state ferries, now running on diesel fuel, to electric hybrids and $64 million to build two new electric ferries.
I proposed electric ferries for Chesapeake crossings because, while requiring public-private investment and some new infrastructure, they would not cost anywhere near what a new bridge, with public financing, would cost taxpayers; because ferries could be in operation within just a few years; and because they would allow multiple crossings of the bay, to the north and south of Annapolis and the present spans. They would provide an alternative for motorists and tourists. They would not replace the present spans; the ferries would merely take some of the traffic away from them. Drivers could catch a ferry in Baltimore perhaps. Drivers from the south could catch one at Chesapeake Beach. I am throwing all this out there because — well, it’s my job. It’s now up to members of the Maryland General Assembly and interested citizens to convince the governor — either the present one or the next one — that a Maryland ferry service needs to be considered in the context of the bay-crossing picture as we go deeper into the 21st Century and try to cut greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change.
Worth further study: How one electric ferry, carrying 150 cars with their engines turned off, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a single crossing.