The Delaware River and Bay Authority is writing the next chapter for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.
Since its launch in the 1960s with five vessels acquired from a company that went away with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, some have suggested the Sussex-Jersey fleet would meet a similar fate.
A 17-mile-long bridge over Delaware Bay has long been proposed, with the DRBA balking at the price tag since the 1980s.
Some in Cape May feel otherwise. While Coastal Sussex sees a real estate-driven boom, the economy across the bay has been mired in a long-running slump.
Earlier this year, a Cape May Herald editorial called for a bridge, even though the estimated cost was $1 billion as of 2003. However, it would not be a stretch to put the current price tag at $1.5 billion.
Over the years, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry’s fleet has shrunk to three as the DRBA worked to reduce deficits that are inevitable when operating a ferry.
Delaware Memorial Bridge toll profits make up the difference, but the DRBA has a long to-do list in keeping the aging twin spans in decent condition.
Meanwhile, the remaining vessels in the Cape May-Lewes fleet date back to the 1970s and ’80s. All have undergone extensive upgrades. Along the way, the DRBA has also spiffed up terminals, food service, and other amenities as the ferry evolved into a summer tourist attraction.
None of this comes cheap. The most recent ferry overhaul cost $20 million and gave the MV New Jersey a much cleaner engine that replaced a diesel design dating back to the 1940s.
With a bridge basically out of the question, the two-state authority rolled out three proposals in its Master Plan, at a virtual public meeting held earlier this month.
One option would keep the fleet at three, 100 vehicle vessels, with the second comprised of three to four 75-vehicle carriers and the third consisting of five 55-car ferries.
Option three would be the most cost-effective, since the smaller vessels would be less costly to operate, especially during the winter months. The downsides include more rolls and pitches in rough seas and a slightly higher rate of winter cancelations.
Click here for the options.
The wild card comes in powering the fleet. One possibility briefly mentioned in the master plan is hybrid diesel-electric power. All electric power is not out of the question.
This year, the world’s largest electric ferry went into service in Norway. It is double the size of Cape May-Lewes vessels, but sails a shorter distance.
The DRBA has time on its side and electric ferries may be more feasible later in the decade. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.