WOODBRIDGE, Va. — Drivers who commute from Prince William County, VIrginia to the D.C.-area know the drive can be a slow and frustrating one. As countywide talks of increasing public transit options continue, a push for an option that would take commuters off the road and put them on the water is gaining steam.
“My guess is a year or two from now, people will be able to take a ferry out of the Occoquan and/or the Belmont Bay area into D.C. in under an hour,” said Frank Principi, Woodbridge District Supervisor on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.
On Thursday, Principi gathered with members of the community, including business leaders and members of area transit groups for the 2017 Fast Ferry Summit.
The fast ferry plan is still in the early stages, and is looking at the feasibility, cost and benefit of creating a private/public partnership to provide ferry service during the morning and afternoon hours for commuters.
“There is a big market here in the Woodbridge area,” said Willem Polak a consultant with the Potomac River Boat Company. Polak previously owned the D.C.-area ferry boat company before recently selling it to Entertainment Cruises.
Polak said the company which already runs water taxis between Alexandria, D.C. and National Harbor is studying the eastern Prince William County market as a possible additional destination for their new 149-person, yellow water taxis, which will soon hit the waters of the Potomac.
“A great way to go to work, sit back, have a cup of coffee, WiFi, 40-45 minutes later your walk to work at DOT, HUD or wherever that may be,” Polak said.
A federal grant worth $173,000 is being used to look at possible departure points for a water taxi, and what it will cost to build the infrastructure needed to provide service.
“The Potomac river, which is a free resource, doesn’t require any maintenance at all and it’s there already, as an excellent resource for us to utilize and to add to our transportation system,” said Scott Davies, director of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s office of ports and waterways planning.
Tim Payne, principal with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, the organization hired to conduct the study, says several sites are being looked at along the Occoquan River and Belmont Bay.
When it comes to a site’s infrastructure, Payne said some focus points of the study include availability of parking, whether or not the docks or loading areas can handle the stress of daily foot traffic, and if a location is accessible for people with disabilities.
Another area being looked at is what it will cost commuters to use the water taxi. Principi said his hope is that the service cost to riders will be similar to ticket costs for Virginia Railway Express train rides.
Ndidi Ulasi of Woodbridge said some days it take her more than an hour to get to her job in D.C.
“It’s something I might be interested in,” Ulasi said.
Frim Nowicki, who lives on Belmont Bay, said she is for a water taxi, but doesn’t want it to depart from Belmont Bay because they feel the area couldn’t handle the car traffic if the water taxi becomes popular.
“That would be chaos during rush hour,” Nowicki said.
Paulette Maultsby of Woodbridge who is in a wheelchair came for test rides on a water taxi being offered before the summit, but says she was told her wheelchair was too heavy for the boat. Maultsby said she would love the option of a water taxi to get around but hopes planners consider all those with disabilities in the planning process.
“There’s a lot of people in wheelchairs, but there is nothing for us to do in this community except go to the senior center and who wants to go there every day,”
Nader Abed of Woodbridge is a realtor in the county and he hopes the daily boat trips come to the area.
“I think it will be used because the average commute for people is an hour,” Abded said.
The latest study being conducted on possible water taxi service should be completed by December.