Look at a map of the huge Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay and there are numerous places where you could make a crossing by boat in a reasonable amount of time. But since the 1950s, when the first Bay Bridge was completed — the second span opened in 1973 — we’ve been sending all traffic to the narrowest point between the western and eastern shores, between Sandy Point and Kent Island. There are 2 million more Marylanders today than lived in the state in 1973. For those on the western shore who want to reach the Eastern Shore and Ocean City, we have created a bottleneck at the bridges by offering that passage as the only one for the masses. And the dominant suggestion now is that we build a third bridge at the same point — a 20th Century idea in the 21st Century.

My argument against building a $10 billion third span is that a fleet of car-carrying, electric-powered ferries, originating at multiple points along the bay, could not only drain traffic away from the bridges but take Marylanders and tourists to points they can’t access by water unless they own a boat. (And, of course, greatly reduce greenhouse emissions.)

I bring the subject up again in my Wednesday column in The Baltimore Sun because a consortium of five Maryland counties is about to undertake a feasibility study on a “sustainable ferry service” to connect destinations along the bay.

The emphasis is tourism — the ferry as a way of giving more people access to more stops along the bay. Visitors could avoid the bridges altogether and take an electric-powered ferry from Annapolis for a day trip to Crisfield, or perhaps from Edgewater to Romancoke, or from Chesapeake Beach to Tilghman Island, or maybe Havre de Grace to Betterton. Imagine leaving your car at Tradepoint Atlantic in Baltimore County or at Port Covington in Baltimore City and taking a battery-powered ferry to Rock Hall for the day. The ferries could be commissioned and operated in a private-public partnership and paid for with passenger fees. It’s certainly more complicated than that, but where there’s will there’s a way. Maryland just needs the will to look at this idea seriously.

3 thoughts on “Electric Ferries: Not the name of a rock band. A solution to Chesapeake Bay Bridge traffic.

  1. GREAT IDEA! I remember in the early 60’s taking that boat to Betterton every summer arranged by my Great Aunt. Can’t remember where we took off, but remember the water trip well. Will probably get push back from the state when traffic (and money) on the bridges falls off, but am sure somehow they will figure out how to get a piece of the “river boat” action. And on bad weather days, they can use the bridge then do the return trip on the ferry. Again, great idea! Being a Baltimore City girl, it was a great experience to get away from the concrete city.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I lived in Seattle for a time and car/walk-on ferries are necessary to cross to the west side of Puget Sound and to reach communities to the north on some islands. These are state run and are a going concern due to a lack of a bridge option. A ferry system needs a reliable daily passenger load to be successful and tourism alone would be cyclical. For crossing the Chesapeake Bay I think tourism would need to take a back seat to cars and commuters on foot living on the Eastern Shore. Walk-on passengers would need adequate public transit connections to reach the workplace and home to maximize usefulness. Of course parking at the ferry docks would be necessary for some walk-ons. Then the question, how many ferry boats would be necessary for a system to be useful? If convenience is not a part of the formula it won’t be viable. By all means move forward with cost-benefit studies.


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