Boats have shuttled people across the Mississippi River since the very founding of New Orleans, and they play a role in the metro area’s modern transportation network. Now, however, local officials are looking for new ways to fund these ferries to keep the service alive.
There is concern that ending ferry service would shift more traffic onto the Crescent City Connection bridges and also harm economic development, especially in Algiers where the easy ferry connection to downtown New Orleans contributes a great deal to the neighborhood’s lifestyle.
The threat to ferry service stems from changes to the administration of the Crescent City Connection. Tolls from eastbound bridge traffic have long subsidized the ferries, including the Canal Street/Algiers ferry, the Chalmette/Lower Algiers Ferry and the Gretna/New Orleans ferry. But newly enacted legislation prohibits bridge tolls from funding the ferries any longer.
Together, these three ferry lines annually carry about 1.2 million pedestrians (mostly on the Canal/Algiers line) and 675,000 vehicles (mostly on the Chalmette/Lower Algiers line). But fares, now collected only on vehicles, come nowhere near funding their operation or upkeep.
Rhett Desselle, assistant secretary of operations for the state Department of Transportation and Development says the state will fund the Chalmette/Lower Algiers Ferry because it serves an area that would otherwise need a bridge. Funding for the other two lines is unclear, but the issue is now in the hands of the Regional Planning Commission (RPC), a multi-parish agency that handles transportation and economic development.
The RPC “is responsible for directing the path forward for local ferry service,” says Desselle.
Earlier this year the group’s board agreed to form a special committee to make recommendations.
“I’m going to be on the optimistic side and say there is a deal to be found here,” says RPC executive director Walter Brooks.
Some options already discussed include transferring the ferries from state to local control, raising fares and seeking private management for the service. Last year the state’s request for proposals for private operators brought no response. But New Orleans City Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson believes investors will have greater confidence in a process guided by the RPC than by local government, and that a new request could net more interest.