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Historic ferry could become idled

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 9:51 p.m.

A Fayette County commissioner has proposed shutting down a 200-year-old ferryboat because its ridership numbers have dropped by more than half since a bridge over the Monongahela River opened last year.

Vincent Zapotosky on Tuesday said the Fredericktown Ferry costs more money to operate than it generates in revenues through fares.

Controller Sean Lally said the ferry in 2012 posted a $44,678 loss. The $91,063 in fares it generated in 2009 fell to $38,219 in 2012. Fayette operates the ferry, but costs are split with Washington County.

In addition, Fayette and Washington counties contribute a combined $155,112 toward the ferry's $238,009 operating expenses in 2012.

On Tuesday, Zapotosky proposed sinking plans to spend as much as $1 million to renovate the ferry in favor of shutting it down for good on Sept. 3.

“It's an antiquated form of travel,” Zapotosky said, noting average daily ridership has dropped from 247 to 90 since the opening of the bridge on the Mon-Fayette Expressway.

“Do you provide a form of travel to 90 people that costs a lot of money?” Zapotosky said. “The bottom line is, you have to stop the bleeding.”

The ferry shuttles pedestrians and vehicles between Fayette and Washington counties. The two-minute trip costs 50 cents for pedestrians and $2 per car, with higher rates for trucks and larger vehicles.

The ferry runs from 6:15 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. weekdays and 6:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. on Saturdays.

Zapotosky has proposed rescinding an earlier resolution that called for renovating the ferry, with part of the cost to be covered by a federal grant of up to $970,000 that was first made available to the county in 2008 through the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.

Fayette and Washington would be required to split a 20 percent match to the federal grant, with the amount to be determined by the overall cost of the project. The cost to renovate the ferry has been estimated at between $400,000 and $1 million, Zapotosky said.

Even if Fayette decided to go ahead with renovations to the ferry instead of closing, the Port of Pittsburgh Commission likely would re-evaluate its offer because it was made before the expressway bridge was built, said James McCarville, the commission's executive director.

“With the analysis we did several years ago, at that time, we thought it was a good project,” McCarville said. “We would have to look at it again, because the Mon-Fayette Expressway has been built, and that could change things.”

Zapotosky said the majority of ferryboat users work at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette in Luzerne. He said absent the ferry, they can take the expressway and bridge.

“The commute would be 10 to 12 miles farther on the expressway,” Zapotosky said. “I know it's an inconvenience, but is it practical any longer to operate a ferry?”

Larry Maggi, commissioner chairman in Washington County, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Fayette commissioners will discuss Zapotosky's proposals during their regular monthly meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Public Service Building, 22 E. Main St., Uniontown.

Liz Zemba is a reporter f Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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