Take a ride on M-495: Commuter ferry service proposed for DC area

D.C. area commuters often dream of cruising during their morning drive, and a planned commuter ferry could make that a reality.

The proposed ferry service would initially extend from Woodbridge, Virginia, to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and the Department of Homeland Security in D.C., along a marine highway the U.S. Department of Transportation is calling the “M-495.”

“We have turned a corner when it comes to commuter passenger ferry service on the Occoquan, Potomac and Anacostia rivers,” said Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi.

Principi said eight studies show there would be sufficient ridership to make the service economically viable, and is technically feasible. In addition, origin and destination points have been planned, and infrastructure costs have been identified.

What comes next is a plan for oversight.

“What would an appropriate form of governance be in order to oversee the operations of safety and the financing of this service that would serve all three of our major jurisdictions in the DMV?” is the current question, according to Principi.

The Northern Virginia Regional Commission and OmniRide have been charged with the task of answering that question. They are working with a stakeholder group of 40 different organization, including military bases on the river.

The stakeholders “share the vision of providing an integrated transit service on the National Capital Region’s underutilized ‘blue’ highway,” according to OmniRide.

Through Dec. 13, the group wants to hear from businesses with experience running commuter ferries.

It is requesting information from ferry service owners, operators and other industry representatives about primary routes that have been identified as well as potential future destinations. Other destinations that might be considered later are Amazon’s HQ2, Reagan National Airport, The Wharf, Old Town Alexandria and others.

“This will be the first major milestone in understanding the issues in actually operating ferry service in Northern Virginia and the scope of what’s necessary for a formal procurement of services,” Bob Schneider, OmniRide executive director, said in an email.

When would commuter ferry service begin?

Schneider said it will rely on the level of interest from the private sector, as well as the extent of public funding that is necessary and available to operate the service.

Initial cost for infrastructure, such as docks, parking and vessels, is projected to be between $75- $100 million.

In Principi’s vision, 350-passenger capacity fast ferries will provide people affordable, comfortable commutes, with a beautiful river view and amenities, such as reclining leather seats, Starbucks coffee for breakfast, and a cash bar offering beer and wine for the ride home.

A projected cost of $30 round trip, offset by commonly offered $12 transportation subsidies, would make an $18 trip between Woodbridge and D.C. competitive with prices for Virginia Railway Express and would cost less than express lanes on Interstate 95, Principi said

Travel time would be cut in half, as well, by taking the river versus roads from Virginia to D.C., Principi added.

The Department of Transportation identified the M-495 Crossing on the Potomac, Anacostia and Occoquan rivers as a marine highway route for improved domestic maritime transportation services back in July 2013.

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