‘Is this really about commuters?’ Weekend ridership benefits White’s Ferry weekday users

One day after Loudoun County, Virginia, leaders suggested restoring White’s Ferry service across the Potomac River would do little to improve weekday commutes, Montgomery County, Maryland, leaders punched back, citing a joint study looking at short-and-long term options for the historic ferry.

The just-released study by Loudoun and Montgomery counties shows that when the ferry’s owner stopped operations in December 2020, between 600 and 800 people used the diesel-powered ferry between landings near Poolesville, Maryland, and north of Leesburg, Virginia.

Ridership was higher on weekends than during the week, according to the study.

“I’ve heard a lot of concern about the fact the study shows there’s high ridership on the weekends. And ‘is this really about commuters, when there’s high ridership on weekends?'” said Hannah Henn, deputy director of Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation, during a virtual public hearing Wednesday evening.

“A lot of the benefit that we’ve identified in the ferry is in its support of our local economies,” Henn said. “That weekend ridership — I would suggest that it not be viewed as a negative.”

The study lists recreational and leisure opportunities on both sides of the Potomac River. Adjacent to the Poolesville landing is National Park Service property.

“A lot of these trips that happen on the weekends are supporting our vineyards, agritourism, people going shopping, going to sporting events,” Henn said. “This is actually showing that people are using the ferry to go places and spend money in places where jobs are generated by their attendance.”

Even with more riders on weekends, Henn said recreational usage of White’s Ferry ultimately benefits those hundreds who choose to use it for weekday commutes.

“Within the world of ferries, often high ridership can help cover the costs of weekday ridership,” Henn said. “If a ferry operator has great business during peak tourism and recreation season, that helps them stay open throughout the year and provide that daily service for commuters, as well.”

On Tuesday, Loudoun County supervisors said Montgomery County leaders had been unwilling to discuss constructing a new bridge across the Potomac.

“White’s Ferry is a wonderful feature, but it’s a Band-Aid for what the ultimate problem is, and what the ultimate solution is,” Dulles District supervisor Matt Letourneau said. “Not a piece of technology from a hundred years old, but a bridge, or some way to actually cross the river.”

Montgomery County officials have maintained the White’s Ferry stalemate is between two private parties. Loudoun Chair Phyllis Randall suggested a professional mediator be brought in, and offered a county meeting room as “neutral ground” for the negotiations.

Rockland Farm owner Libby Devlin has said she has made several offers to ferry owner Chuck Kuhn. Kuhn has said the ferry may not reopen without the Loudoun County government exerting eminent domain.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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