Cities Consider Ferry Service To Ease Traffic Congestion

The mayors of both cities like the idea. The challenge is who will pay for it. And is a passenger ferry between Biloxi and Ocean Springs a realistic proposal?

Anyone who used to drive the bridge between the two cities every day can tell you about the traffic congestion and longer commute since the storm. With a new bridge more than a year away, the idea of a ferry service seems to be gaining support.

The collapsed concrete span that was the Biloxi Ocean Springs bridge provided an important link for thousands of drivers a day. Katrina forced an immediate, often frustrating, change of route. Advocates for a ferry say such a service could ease that frustration.

"Primarily right now for people to get back to work. A lot of construction workers, in particular in Point Cadet in Biloxi. It takes a long time to go all the way around I-10 and the I-110 loop to Point Cadet," said Mayor Connie Moran of Ocean Springs.

"I've been looking at this thing for eight weeks," said Louis Skrmetta.

His family has provided ferry service to Ship Island for decades. One of his 300 passenger boats could ferry three to seven thousand people between Biloxi and Ocean Springs in a 12 hour period.

Skrmetta says his passenger ferry is the better choice over car-carrying boats that also want the service.

"The beautiful thing about it is, once you land in Biloxi, all the major casino properties are within a short distance of where we'll be landing. People can walk to those sites or catch one of the CTA buses that will be part of the solution here," said Skrmetta.

Of the many unresolved issues attached to this ferry proposal, the most significant question is probably not how many people might use the service, or whether the ferry should accommodate vehicles or passengers only. As with many government projects, the overriding concern boils down to money.

"The big thing like this, like most ideas, is okay it's a great idea, but who's going to pay for it? The mayor thinks it would be a good idea if FEMA could provide the funding to do it," said City of Biloxi spokesman, Vincent Creel.

If the money comes through, Captain Skrmetta stands ready.

"Come up with the funding, we'll build a couple of landings. We think we can do it very cheaply and get underway very soon," he said.

Planners met Friday in Jackson with M-DOT and FEMA represenatives to discuss the ferry idea. Funding remains the biggest concern. There's a possibility some funding may be available through the Federal Highway Administration.

By Steve Phillips