Monday, May 23, 2022

HRT debuts new ferry for increasingly popular Norfolk-to-Portsmouth trip

NORFOLK — Hampton Roads Transit introduced the first arrival in its new generation of ferries Friday morning.

The transit authority signed a $7 million contract to replace its current fleet of three aging vessels, the oldest of which was built in 1982. Officials say the older boats are becoming harder and more expensive to maintain.

The new pedestrian ferry, the Elizabeth River IV, boasts more fuel-efficient engines, a higher reliance on electronic controls and an added man hatch to allow for faster loading and unloading. Like its predecessors, it maintains the steamboat look and 150-person capacity.

“In terms of today’s milestone, ferry service has surged over the last few months with the beautiful weather and the opening of the Waterside District,” HRT President and CEO William Harrell said. “In May, we topped over 50,000 riders and in June we hit over 67,000 riders on the ferry.”

In all, the current ferry system has transported over 15 million riders. The first iteration of the river crossing was launched in 1636, predating both of the cities it now connects and making it the oldest such service in Virginia history.

Through the following centuries, the ferries changed with the times, eventually carrying horse-drawn carts, and even cars, before the Downtown Tunnel was completed.

“Although my experience with the ferries does not go back to the 1600s, it does go back … to the late 1940s, when I would beg my parents to let me ride the ferry,” Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe said. “We’d get a nickel hot dog and pay a nickel to get on the ferry.”

Ridership is expected to increase with the revitalization of Portside in Portsmouth as well. Rowe told the crowd that the city expects the project to be completed by spring 2018.

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