By Charlie Russell
I’ve done this before, but I can’t help but observe that each time the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel announces a small rate increase, Facebook comes alive with individuals who scream bloody murder that another three bucks to go to Costco constitutes a financial catastrophe.
Until 1964, traveling to the Tidewater cities or Richmond from the Eastern Shore meant riding on one of the seven ferries that plied the open waters of the mouth of the bay from Kiptopeke to Little Creek. The trip took about 90 minutes one way and it cost $9.70 round trip for a car and driver. Now remember that in those days you could buy a comfortable home for $12,000 or a new Cadillac for about half of that.
There are communities around the country that still rely on car ferries to connect with the mainland. For instance, if you live in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State it will cost you $60 for a car, driver and passenger to go to Anacortes round trip. The ferries are subsidized by the State of Washington.
Residents of Washington Island, Wisconsin off of the northern tip of the Door County Peninsula have to pay $52 round trip for a car, driver and passenger to go to the mainland to Wal Mart. It’s about a 30 minute trip across a body of water called Death’s Door.
The Cross Sound Ferry which connects New London Connecticut with Orient Point on the eastern tip of Long Island charges $79 one way or about $150 round trip for a car and driver plus one passenger. The trip takes about 80 minutes one way. The alternative is to take I-95 from New London to New York City then east on Long Island to Orient Point. It’s a six hour trip if traffic is not bad, but when is that?
The interesting thing about this route that one of the ferries, the Cape Henlopen started its life as a navy LST and participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. In the late fifties it was resurrected as a car ferry by the Virginia Ferry Commission and ran for three years on the Kiptopeke-Little Creek route as the Virginia Beach. It is the last surviving lower Chesapeake Bay ferry.
In the dead of winter it costs $79 for a car and driver to go from Lewes to Cape May and back. It costs more in the summer but their new web site will only let you make reservations three months out and they don’t tell you what the summer rate is. The last time I looked at this it was over $100 in peak season.
But, I’ve saved the best for last. Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Nantucket is located 30 miles over open water from Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. It is a historically preserved old whaling town that features cobble stone streets, a nice whaling museum, many homes that date back to the early 1800s and dozens of very high price gift boutiques.
If you’re looking for a cheap place to retire don’t even think about Nantucket. I checked real estate prices and anything listed for less than $1million is either an empty lot or a studio apartment sized house. John Kerry recently sold his get away cottage on Nantucket for $27 million and the new owners are remodeling it. Perhaps Kerry and his wife Theresa Heinz are now on a fixed income and had to downsize.
If you live on Nantucket or it’s neighbor Martha’s Vineyard you have a couple of options. You can ride the fast ferry which is walk on only and you’re limited by what you can carry. The fast ferry takes about an hour to cross the water to Hyannis Port and costs each passenger around $75 round trip.
If you want to take your car you’ll have to to fork over $400 during the summer, maybe around $300 in the off season to get off and back to the island. Its called the slow ferry and takes a little over two hours each way. If you decide at the last minute to head to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox it will cost you almost $500 to get there and back. If it’s a night game you may have to book a hotel room and come back the next day.
to fork over $400 during the summer, maybe around $300 in the off season to get off and back to the island. Its called the slow ferry and takes a little over two hours each way. If you decide at the last minute to head to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox it will cost you almost $500 to get there and back. If it’s a night game you may have to book a hotel room and come back the next day.
Now, full disclosure, some of these ferry companies do have frequent rider rates that are a little less than the tourist rate and the regulars don’t pay full freight.
The point is that if we didn’t have the Bridge Tunnel and ferries still served as the main link to the mainland, the round trip would take three hours transit time and cost at best around $150 for the family to cross the bay and return.
Now, for 20 bucks round trip you can get across in 20 minutes and they don’t charge you for each additional passenger either. The Bridge Tunnel is a bargain that has been instrumental in enhancing the quality of life on this side and at the same time keeps urban sprawl on the other side. But I still miss the restaurant.