‘Fast Ferry’ sailing closer to reality in Woodbridge

Passenger ferries are a common form of transportation in several other big cities. It hasn't caught on here, but one official in Prince William County, Virginia, thinks that will change.

WASHINGTON — Every day, thousands make the trip from the Woodbridge area to Southwest D.C., many of them driving alone to either Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) or the Department of Homeland Security headquarters.

It’s a 20- to 25-mile trip that can easily take 90 minutes when you’re unable to use the HOV/Express Lanes. But an alternative form of transit is still in the works that could potentially cut those trips in half.

“Commuter fast ferry is alive and well,” said Prince William County Supervisor Frank Principi.

Passenger ferries are a common form of transportation in several other big cities, including Seattle and New York. It hasn’t really caught on here, though Principi thinks that will change. Federal grant money has been secured to help make improvements to the Occaquan Harbour Marina, where the ferry service would originate every day. A separate federal grant to make improvements to the harbor at JBAB is still in the application process.

“Our next steps will be to work together with vessel owner-operators, select one, and be able to bring in, we hope, three vessels — each carrying 400 passengers, each with a top speed of 55 miles per hour — to conduct a 45-minute run for the thousands of people who commute from within a half-hour of the harbor to Southwest D.C.,” said Principi.

“We think this additional transit service is commercially viable.”

A meeting Wednesday night at Harbour View will provide residents with an update on the ferry plans, as well as the overall redevelopment of the North Woodbridge area. That project will focus on the area between Interstate 95 and the Potomac River and the south end of Virginia Route 123. Principi says a town-center-like development at the harbor will anchor the project, featuring retail, office, residential and a hotel. Residents will get a chance to see how the ferry project would integrate with the overall redevelopment slated for the area.

If all goes well, Principi said, the ferry service would begin in 2021, making three trips north in the morning and three return trips in the afternoon. The estimated cost to go round trip would be $18 for those who utilize their federal transit benefits, for which most of the regular commuters would probably be eligible. Those who aren’t would have to pay $30 to go round trip.

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