Based on an evolving Marine Master Plan, smaller, more earth-friendly ferries may one day sail between southern Delaware and New Jersey.
After public meetings, the two-state Delaware River and Bay Authority board outlined a 75-vehicle ferry option for the Cape May-Lewes ferry. A fleet of four vessels would meet current and future growth forecasts and reach goals outlined in the Marine Master Plan, according to a DRBA release. The new vessels would be introduced in coming years and not all at once.
The three current ferries that are getting up in years can carry about 100 vehicles. Design and planning of the ferry’s future took into consideration ferry ridership, crew, amenities, level of service, seaworthiness, and cost over a 40-year period.
Renderings also seem to suggest features of a short cruise, including lounge chairs.
Ferries are rarely profitable. In the case of the Cape May-Lewes, losses are financed through tolls on the Delaware Memorial Bridge linking northern Delaware to the Garden State. The bridge, which is entirely supported by tolls, has been able to weather old age and heavy use, despite one span now being in its seventh decade and the other heading toward human retirement age.
The DRBA has worked to hold down ferry losses and now has a trio of vessels. After failing to sell one ferry, it ended up being sunk off the Delaware coast as part of the artificial reef program. The authority also spiffed up ferry terminals to draw more passengers. The ferries and their brief crossings are a tourist attraction and provide a sizabale economic boost to both states.
One nonstarter is a tunnel under the 17 miles of water that separates the two states. Costs would run in the billions of dollars. An April Fools post from the State of Delaware announced the tunnel project. That triggered a story noting the astronomical cost of a tunnel to replace a ferry that carries about 300,000 travelers a year, not to mention the costs of a highway link that could run into the hundreds of millions.
Depending on costs and progress in technology, ferries might be electrically powered or use hybrid diesel-electric systems or even hydrogen. Electric ferries are now sailing in northern Europe and will provide the needed information.
The current fleet of three vessels has been upgraded to make them more climate-friendly. Ships are responsible for emitting vast quantities of greenhouse gases, not to mention coming with the risk of mishaps of various sorts that can foul waterways.
Short to mid-term, keeping the ferries in operation isn’t cheap. A 2021 refitting of one DRBA vessel that included a cleaner diesel engine cost $20 million.
You can still offer thoughts and ideas at MarineMasterPlan@drba.net – Doug Rainey, chief content officer