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Closing the gap

Ferry service during a bridge
closure would be free, run 24 hours

Ferry operators on Ohio River
say shutdowns are rare

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(September 2009) – The Milton-Madison Bridge across the Ohio River could be shut down for up to a year if federal stimulus money is granted for a new superstructure replacement, officials say. But a ferry service would be hired to get people across the river during that time. The 24-hour service would be free, according to project manager John Carr.
“We’ve estimated that it is going to cost $2 million to operate a 24-hour ferry service for the area, and we’ve asked for that money in our TIGER grant application,” Carr said. “It is the intent of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Indiana Department of Transportation to make the ferry service free.”
At this point in the preparations, Carr said project leaders are considering running the ferries from the Milton Boat Ramp to Ferry Street in Madison. “We have to work with city officials and engineers to determine if this is the best possible site, but for now we think it may be.”
According to KYTC records, more than 10,000 vehicles cross the Milton-Madison Bridge daily. Four percent of those vehicles are truck traffic. Two ferry boats would be able to run about 1,000 vehicles across. As with other ferry services throughout the state, KYTC officials will set something up when the ferry cannot operate due to adverse conditions.
“The ferry is not going to work for truck traffic and all 10,000 vehicles,” said Carr. “This is going to be something for essential travel.”
There are numerous ferries that operate across rivers in Kentucky. The Augusta Ferry takes vehicles from Bracken County Ky., to Brown County, Ohio, on a daily basis. The ferry has operated since 1992 to help commuters cross the Ohio River. There are about 8,800 people in Bracken County, and the closest bridge is 17 miles away.
“Every day we see commuters, farmers, and shoppers board our ferry,” said owner and operator Skip Miller. He runs lumber trucks across the ferry on a regular basis. He charges $5 a vehicle for his service. Pedestrians can ride for free.
He said people will get used to going around or taking the ferry when the Milton-Madison Bridge closes. “You get used to it, and business still goes on,” he said. “While a ferry may not be as easy as a bridge, it’s better than having nothing.”
He said most people arrive early and relax and enjoy the five minute trip to the other side. Rarely does his ferry close due to inclement conditions, and when it does close, it is not an all-day situation.
“I operate in the toughest five-mile straight stretch of the Ohio River,” he said. “The wind can really whip up around here, but we might have to close only for a few hours on the rare occasion it gets to be too windy.”
River ice, high winds in excess of 35 mph and severe flooding are some of the conditions in which ferry boats cannot operate.
The Anderson Ferry runs vehicles across the Ohio River from Boone, Ky., to Hamilton, Ohio, and it is located eight miles from the closest bridge that connects Florence, Ky., to Cincinnati. It operates just three miles from the airport.
Owner Paul Anderson said it is not very often that his service is shut down due to adverse conditions. “We can run up to 10 feet above flood stage and in winds that are not over 35-45 mph,” he said.
Between 400-500 vehicles board his ferry daily, said Anderson. He runs one ferry during off hours and two during peak rush hours. Normally, about 15 vehicles can be loaded onto a ferry at a time, and the average person waits between 10-20 minutes. He said the wait time in Madison and Milton could be longer during peak hours, given the location.
Carr said people will have to make a decision on a daily basis about their commuting needs. “It’s going to take some time and planning. Travelers should give themselves plenty of time to see what the conditions are like at the ferry service or to take the detour route.”
The closest Ohio River bridges to the Madison-Milton Bridge are Louisville’s Kennedy Bridge, 46 miles downstream, and the Markland Locks and Dam Bridge near Vevay, Ind., 26 miles upstream.
Anderson suggested that people should carpool across the ferry or when driving the detour loops. “We get lots of carpoolers who share the cost of our ferry service, and if people carpooled the detour loops in your community, it would help on the extra fuel costs.” He charges $4 per vehicle and 50 cents for pedestrians.
“People will find that after awhile things will be OK,” he said. “It won’t be that bad; just bring a book, be patient and enjoy the ride.” He said many of his customers prefer his ferry ride because it’s convenient and close, and it is a way to avoid heavy traffic.

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