High-speed ferry service could be coming back to Hampton Roads.
Metro Marine Holdings, based in Alexandria, is proposing a public-private partnership that would bring at least five boats to Hampton Roads Harbor, connecting the Peninsula to parts of Norfolk.
The company is pushing for the federal government to designate the Hampton Roads Harbor as a Marine Highway Corridor, which would allow the region to apply for federal funds to help start the service. A subcommittee of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization reviewed the proposal Wednesday and recommended that the HRTPO board consider it later this month.
The aim is to create a line that departs from several locations on the Peninsula, including Newport News Victory Landing Park and downtown Hampton, and provides service to Norfolk hubs like Waterside and Naval Station Norfolk. The service points are still tentative, and no final decisions have been made or approvals granted.
This isn't the first attempt to provide ferry service between the Peninsula and South Side. The most recent incarnation ended in 2002 when HarborLink suspended its service between downtown Hampton and Norfolk.
Ferry service was the only commercial way for commuters to cross the water until the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel opened in 1957. Bob Heffley, who serves as a director of Metro Marine Holdings, said he sees a need for more forms of travel in Hampton Roads for commuters.
"There's a lot of people who rely on bus travel," he said. "These people need a quick, affordable, reliable form of travel across the water."
Heffley said the project is still in the proposal phase, but getting the Marine Highway Corridor designation will help give it a competitive edge.
"There's still not dedicated funds for ferry service in the stimulus," Heffley said, "but many people say that may become a reality."
Heffley said other federal funds are also available, even if the designation is not successful.
"We're obviously surrounded by water everywhere," said Dwight Farmer, executive director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization.
"Given the gridlock that we're currently experiencing, and it's just going to get worse, it makes sense that we explore this. If they can operate at (30 knots) with good frequency, then it's very possible they can gain a credible market share."
Metro Marine Holdings estimates that it can draw 1,350 daily commuters and 700 tourists during peak season. Each boat would hold 95 to 100 passengers.
The company estimates that it would cost about $40 million to launch the project, including $22 million to acquire the boats. At 30 knots, crossing from Hampton or Newport News would take about 25 minutes. The company hopes to launch a pilot route in 2012 and move to full service by 2015.
Crossing Hampton Roads Here are some key dates in the history of ferry service between the Peninsula and Norfolk:• 1912: The Chesapeake Ferry Co. starts a service that transports vehicles and pedestrians between Newport News and Norfolk• Circa 1918: Passenger ferry runs from Old Point Comfort to Willoughby Spit• 1929: The Chesapeake Ferry Co. extends service when it merges with the Hampton Roads Transportation Co., which operates between Willoughby Spit and Old Point Comfort• 1948: Cars line up inside the ferry to Seawells Point in Norfolk• 1949: Ferry service operates around-the-clock between Newport News and Norfolk after local branches of the Tidewater Automobile Association request 24-hour service• 1957: The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel opens and replaces ferry lines. The state later sells the 10-vessel fleet.• 1959: The retired Newport News is converted into a floating warehouse in Groton, Conn. • 1999: HarborLink starts fast-ferry service between the downtowns of Hampton and Norfolk• 2002: HarborLink, unable to build a sufficient ridership base, suspends its ferry service• 2012: Proposed start date for a pilot route of high-speed ferry service from the Peninsula to NorfolkCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun