Study Examines Whites Ferry Impact, Alternatives

A study commissioned by Loudoun County and Montgomery County, MD, and released Thursday looks into the options for getting Whites Ferry back in operation, and to improve the service.

The ferry has been closed since December 2020, after the cable guiding the ferry across the river snapped, a Loudoun Circuit Court ruling that the ferry operators lacked legal access to the property used for the ferry’s Virginia landing, and the ferry owners and landowners were unable to come to terms on a new deal. The ferry owners sold the property to Chuck Kuhn, who also found an impasse in efforts to negotiate a new agreement. That has county supervisors discussing the processibility of taking the ferry landing on the Virginia side through eminent domain. 

While in operation, the ferry carried 600-800 cars per day— along with cyclist and pedestrians—across the Potomac River. And with Maryland’s longstanding opposition to allowing a new bridge, the ferry provided the only river crossing option between the Point of Rocks bridge and the American Legion Memorial Bridge.

The study published this week found that if an agreement is reached to restart service, the ferry could be up and running again as it was before within weeks, allowing for time re-attach the ferry cable across the river, inspect the ferry vessel, and hire any needed staff. The study estimated up to 12 weeks once issues around the landing rights are resolved.

But the study also explored the limitations for the ferry facilities today, and the options for expanding that service, with demand for ways to cross the river only expected to increase in the future. According to the study, White’s Ferry carried 80% of the trips between western Montgomery County and northeast Loudoun County, traffic that is otherwise forced onto Rt. 15 and the Point of Rocks bridge.

The study found that on the Virginian side, the road leading to the ferry is narrow, with tight turns and no shoulders, and on the Maryland side there are elements of the operation that encroach on National Parks Service land. Both sides also have limited parking.

The study also recommends long-term improvements to ferry service, with changes to staffing, roadways, fare collection, lighting, and vessel capacity, with the ferry vessel expected to need replacement within the next decade, offering an opportunity to expand or improve the ferry.

The study also considered the cost if the government were to take over and directly operate or contract out ferry operations, finding those options to be feasible but with funding gaps. In the first five years, the study projects a $13.7 million shortfall in funding if the government runs the ferry as it is, and a shortfall of $14.6 million if the government goes with recommended improvements to the ferry. Those shortfalls are all projected to be under a million dollars for contracting the ferry as is, and $1.5 million for contracting an improved ferry. 

The study also estimates that if open for a full year in 2023, the ferry as-is would have a $9 million positive economic impact through jobs, travel time savings, and other savings for travelers.

In a statement released the same day as the study, Kuhn said he has already begun work on improving the ferry.

“We appreciate the work and insights from the recent joint study by Montgomery and Loudoun Counties. It underscores White’s Ferry importance to the region and also revealed the difficulties in maintaining and making the ferry a private successful enterprise as the previous owners recognized. We remain committed to making White’s Ferry operational and affordable for customers,” Kuhn stated. “The ferry is a scenic crossing but also an important connection that helps employees get to work and contributes to the economy in many other ways. The impasse has cost people time and money and added traffic and environmental woes to our community.  We look to the counties to help us move forward and support whatever direction they deem best to get White’s Ferry working for our region.”

County supervisors are scheduled to discuss the study at their meeting Nov. 16.

9 thoughts on “Study Examines Whites Ferry Impact, Alternatives

  • 2021-11-12 at 6:51 pm
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    Let’s see… a private party can buy the ferry, improve it and operate it, all presumably for a profit. On the other hand, the government could operate it and lose millions.

    A pretty good lesson about government.

  • 2021-11-12 at 8:48 pm
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    Binding arbitration was suggested by the Kuhn family. What happened there?

    “No” to the eminent domain option when such a route exists to resolve a private property matter. Option #2— build the bridge.

  • 2021-11-13 at 1:46 pm
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    Whites ferry had two things going for it. 1) it was affordable and 2) it was convenient when considering the bridges as alternates. Plus, fit was fun. And the drive is a nice drive. I can see all this regulation coming in and ruining this. Fares will most likely increase 5 fold. The scenery will disappear and if they build a bridge here or near by, business and such will encroach. Or even worse….look at 193 and what happened to that when it became an alternate way to get to 495!

  • 2021-11-13 at 3:54 pm
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    Come on Chuck! All the Virginia property owners want is half a buck!

    Pay up Chuck. We don’t want your buddies in government to steal someone’s land just so you can play Captain Kuhn.

  • 2021-11-13 at 8:22 pm
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    The Kuhns refused arbitration but donated an untold amount of money to politicians. Another lesson in government is that you buy politicians instead of paying for something you want like the right to use another person’s property. It is disgusting that this BoS would entertain weaponizing eminent domain because the Kuhn family asked all paid for by you and me.

  • 2021-11-14 at 11:10 am
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    The idea that government can seize property from one private owner and grant it to another private owner to benefit that private owner’s enterprise ought to be abhorrent to everyone. At that point, no one owns property. We simply pay taxes on property until the government decides they can take it and award it to a favored person.

  • 2021-11-15 at 1:50 am
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    A little known fact: The ferry was generating $750,000 a year in income to it’s owners. Meanwhile they paid nothing to the Virginia land owners for years and went ahead and built improvements over their express wishes. I think a share of profits for the Virginia side as a per car fee or flat annual sum is pretty reasonable.

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