PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The City of Portland has taken a major stride toward establishing a pilot project for the proposed “Frog Ferry” passenger-ferry system that would traverse the Willamette and Columbia Rivers in order to improve Interstate 5 bridge traffic and promote tourism in the Portland area.

Commissioner Mingus Mapps’ senior policy advisor Shannon Carney told KOIN 6 News that the city has to navigate numerous steps before a boat hits the water. However, Mapps and the Portland Regional Coordinating Committee officially added the ferry project to the City of Portland’s 2023 Regional Transportation Plan on May 24, clearing a path for the project to receive federal funding.

“This inclusion is a critical step for the project to be eligible for federal grant funding over the next five years,” Carney said.

The city’s regional transportation plan, which is submitted to Oregon Metro once every five years, outlines the city’s transportation investment priorities for the next 20 years. Friends of Frog Ferry, the nonprofit behind the project, said that the city will now need to outline a way to match grant funding for a pilot project and vote to partner with the nonprofit in order to apply for a Federal Transportation Administration Passenger Ferry Grant.

“If the City of Portland and Frog Ferry successfully apply for Federal Transportation Funding this summer, and match funding is secured, we can put a boat on the water in 2025,” Friends of Frog Ferry announced in a statement on May 24. “We have the opportunity to return to the Federal Transit Administration for funding year over year to grow a ferry service featuring more vessels.”

In its submission to the 2023 Regional Transportation Plan, the city estimates that establishing the pilot ferry system, plus one year of service, will cost roughly $12 million. Expenses for the project include: Buying a boat, design engineering costs, dock upgrades, the creation of a ticketing and scheduling system, marketing and the hiring of employees.

The Portland City Council has not included the proposed Frog Ferry in the draft for the 2023-2024 fiscal year budget, stating that there are no funds available for new projects. However, Friends of Frog Ferry states that the city’s contribution of its existing docks could be considered a monetary match for grant funding.

A look at the interior design of a proposed Frog Ferry boat. (Courtesy of Friends of Frog Ferry)

While Friends of Frog Ferry says it hopes to one day create a system with seven electric ferries capable of carrying 70 to 100 passengers along 10 different stops between Vancouver and Oregon City, the initial pilot project is expected to include one 70-passenger, diesel-engine boat traveling between Cathedral Park and the South Waterfront. One-way rides along the route are estimated to cost $3.50 and take 25 minutes.

The city council was scheduled to discuss approving a feasibility study for the pilot program in May. However, Mapps pulled the item from the agenda to allow for further discussion and planning.

Carney said that the council is expected to resume discussion about the project this summer.

“To ensure the plan for passenger water taxi service meets the Regional Transportation Plan requirements, we’ll be working with other city council offices to bring back the policy resolution to adopt the Frog Ferry Operational Feasibility study later this summer,” Carney said. “The Regional Transportation Plan update will ultimately be adopted by the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation and the Metro Council by November 2023.”