Last month, the USVI Department of Public Works, Division of Transportation (VITRAN) received $5.1 million in Federal grant funding in order to purchase a brand new 300 passenger ferry for service between Cruz Bay and Red Hook! Those of you who have been stranded at the dock, or sardined into a crowded ferry, during peak hours can probably understand how huge this is. Resident commuters are certainly in anticipation of this new boat which will ease the peak hour delays and crowds.
About eight years ago, federal funding allowed for the purchase of the Cruz Bay I and Red Hook I. You know the boats…The big, blue ones that facilitate regular hourly service between Cruz Bay and Red Hook. Well, as much as these 204 capacity boats helped to ease the commute between St. John and our larger sister island to the west, the rising drive of tourism paired with heavy commuter traffic has still managed to make these boats a bit on the “small” side sometimes.
“A third, larger vessel, that can accommodate 300 passengers is necessary,” said DPW Transportation Planner Andrew Ray. “Ridership demands, particularly during the rush hour, cannot be met with the smaller, existing vessels owned by DPW.”
The federal Passenger Ferry Grant Program (a part of Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) provides competitive funding for projects that support passenger ferry systems in urbanized areas. Funds are awarded based on infrastructure needs and benefit to riders. The ferry service, along this route, serves as a lifeline for St. John residents who travel to St. Thomas for healthcare, employment, education, and other essential services.
VITRAN received one of the 11 grants for projects around the country in areas with similar “on the water” public transportation needs in rural communities. Additional areas that received funding for similar projects are located in California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Washington.
The timeline for the new ferry and the type of boat is unclear based on the press release and other statements made by government officials. But, there are also plans in the works for a federally subsidized St. Thomas to St. Croix ferry. Stay tuned for more updates on this and have a freaking fantastic weekend!!!