US DOT Awards $172M for Improving Nation’s Ferry Service

funding to improve US ferry operations in infrastructure
Washington State Ferries received the largest award of the 122 going to ferry and terminal operators (WSF file photo)

Published Aug 5, 2022 6:36 PM by The Maritime Executive

In the latest part of the federal government’s investment into the maritime sector as part of the country’s infrastructure, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $172 million in funding specific for ferry services across the country. The Biden administration using the infrastructure legislation passed by Congress in 2021, is at historic levels providing funding through the Federal Highway Administration for ferry service to support multimodal transportation services.

“Many Americans rely on ferry service as a primary means of travel, making it a critical connection to jobs, healthcare, and other daily needs,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “The funding we are announcing today will continue and enhance ferry service for communities across the country.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $912 million in formula funding over five years through FHWA’s Ferry Boat Program, more than doubling the amount provided under 2015 legislation. It also expanded eligibility to include ferry maintenance facilities and the purchase of transit vehicles such as buses and shuttles used exclusively to transport passengers as an integral part of an intermodal ferry trip. The funding can also be used for capital improvements to existing ferry operations, which could increase the number of riders, relieve congestion, or address environmental or significant operational concerns.

The $172.2 million in FY 2022 formula funding announced by DOT today will be divided among 35 states and three territories to improve ferry service and provide more travel options. A total of 112 publicly-owned operators of ferries or terminals have been designated for the funding. The amounts range in size from $36 million to a few thousand dollars. Four of the awards are each over $10 million while an additional 24 are above $1 million.

The announcement does not detail how the major awards will be spent but some of the recipients have been struggling with aging equipment or the need to upgrade terminals. The largest single award is for $38 million to Washington State Ferries while the Alaska Marine Highway will also receive $35.6 million. The Texas Department of Transportation and New York City Department of Transportation Ferry Division are also each receiving more than $10 million. (A complete list of the awards is on the Federal Highway Administration’s website.)

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law substantially increased funding for ferry boats to help improve the quality of life and make it easier for commuters to get to their destinations,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack. “In all of the states and territories receiving funding, ferry boat service is an important part of transportation in helping to improve mobility and access to important services in these communities.”

The FHWA’s Ferry Boat Program supports terminal and vessel projects that provide critical access to areas that lack other means of transportation where high passenger demand already exists. Funding is distributed to State Departments of Transportation based on a formula contained in the law, and the funding is then allocated to individual ferry boat operators based on eligibility.