In Trial Run of Ferry Lie Dreams of An Easier Commute

Could the Washington area go in the direction of Seattle, New York and Venice -- cities that use their waterways as an important mode of transportation? A test run last week of a high-speed ferry between Quantico in Prince William county and the Navy Yard in the District, made that vision seem tantalizingly real.

Developer Kettler, which is has put $100 million into a 2,500 acre development near the Marine Corps Base Quantico, hired a 49-passenger ferry last week to test how long it would take. The result: 58 uncongested, latte-sippable, newspaper-readable minutes from shore to shore.

"It was a surprise to everyone. It was windy with a northeast wind blowing and it was raining and the tide was running against us," said Rick Hausler, president of Kettler.

Tides? Northeast winds? While the Potomac does not evoke images of the movie "The Perfect Storm," the test was an important event to see if ferry service on the Potomac could actually work. The developer envisions a high-speed sevice that would run about 12 times a day with three boats. It's a concept touted by many local business leaders, including Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, who argues the Potomac is underutilized, particularly with several waterfront developments such as National Harbor underway.

If launched, ferry service could be a boon for Kettler as it opens its luxury golf course, 2,500 residential units and 2 million square feet of office space in coming years in an area where residents endure hair-pulling commutes to other parts of Northern Virginia and the District.

Several development projects are underway on the eastern end of Prince William, where high-end residential and retail offerings are expected to revive the sleepy Route 1 corridor. Base realignment, expected to bring thousands of new residents to the county, will also put pressure on an already clogged road network.

But before you imagine yourself sipping Chardonnay on wind-swept waters, a la San Francisco ferries, it will take a big investment and at least a few years before ferry service becomes reality. Hausler said it is too early to predict the cost of the project. And there's the important question: Who would pay for it?
-- Cecilia Kang

By Mike Shepard  |  November 2, 2007; 4:52 PM ET  | Category:  Real Estate
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