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Anne Arundel County, Visit Annapolis seek proposal to bring ferries back to the Chesapeake Bay

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Anne Arundel County and its visitors bureau, along with other waterfront jurisdictions and nonprofits, are exploring the possibility of reestablishing a ferry system across the Chesapeake Bay.

As tourism begins to reemerge following nearly three years of coronavirus pandemic restrictions, a consortium that , includes Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and governments from Calvert, St. Mary’s, Somerset and Queen Anne’s counties is hoping a network of ferries would boost tourism, support local economies and allow residents and visitors to better familiarize themselves with the state and its history, said Kristen Pironis, executive director of Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County.

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In the first step of what could be a yearslong process, the consortium is seeking contractors to submit proposals for feasibility studies by Feb. 15. The studies will examine the potential costs and benefits of a ferry system, possible docking locations, boat sizes and other considerations, according to the request released last week.

“The Bay has served as a transportation and trade highway and byway for as long as the historic and prehistoric record can be documented,” the request for proposals states. “The ferry system connected communities throughout the Chesapeake Bay region through a wide-ranging network of routes. Ferries were the only access to either side of the bay in Maryland until the construction of the [Bay Bridge].”

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The potential destinations for a proposed ferry stretch the length of the Chesapeake Bay, from Annapolis and Galesville in Anne Arundel County; Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County; St. Mary’s City and Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County; several Eastern Shore stops, including Crisfield, Chestertown, Easton and Cambridge; and north to Baltimore, Havre de Grace and Chesapeake City.

The request for proposals establishes a six-month timeline for the winning bidder to submit a written report and present its findings.

When the pandemic crippled the tourism industry, groups such as Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County began working more closely with counterparts across the state to seek solutions. About a year ago, the group started discussing bringing ferries back to the bay.

“We found that as we talked more, we needed to work better as regions because the visitor doesn’t really care if they go across the Bay Bridge and they’re all of a sudden in another county, they just want a really good visitor experience,” Pironis said.

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The consortium was awarded a $125,000 grant by the U.S. Commerce Department in October for the feasibility study. The members of the consortium and Anne Arundel County and Maryland Economic Development Corporation put up a combined $125,000 of their own.

“We talk a lot about access to the Chesapeake Bay, and while it’s getting better it can still be difficult for a good segment of our visitors and the residents here, so this would take it down to a more equitable access to the Chesapeake Bay, which is really exciting,” Pironis said. “And you can avoid a scary bridge.”

This wouldn’t be the first time ferries regularly traversed the bay. The Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry crossed the waterway from Annapolis to Claiborne, near St. Michaels, for decades starting in 1919. Other routes were added over time, but the ferry service was shut down in 1952 as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened up.

Pironis said the group is re-imagining the role ferries can play on the bay. The group is hoping the new ferries will be electric and will carry passengers and bikes, but not cars. It will be more of a luxurious, enjoyable experience than a utilitarian way of getting cars and people from place to place as the old ferries were.

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In late 2021, Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley earmarked $1.5 million for an electric ferry on City Dock among other electric transportation items. The City Council unanimously approved it in March.

Pironis said she’s heard a lot of support for the idea among residents.

“Every single person we talk to gets excited about it” and they say, ”‘Ooh, I can do this. I can go to Crisfield. I can go over to Queen Anne’s County for lunch for the day and then come back to Annapolis,’” Pironis said. “People start to get excited about what it could mean.”


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