Where We Live: A new ferry in the works for Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Willamette River is the heart of Portland, separating east from west and connecting us as a river city. But it’s been decades since Portland has had a ferry service.

Susan Bladholm wants to change that. She’s a veteran of the transportation and tourism industries and is spearheading the so-called “Frog Ferry” pilot project, which would bring a 70-passenger vessel to the Willamette.

“I just wondered — why aren’t we using our rivers? I fly up to Puget Sound, up to Vancouver, B.C., I can see the ferries,” she said.

The project will begin as an express between Riverplace Marina and the St. Johns neighborhood in North Portland. Bladholm hopes to eventually add stops along the way.

“But imagine on a Saturday picking up the ferry here and taking your kids over to OMSI at the OMSI dock — which is a great example of that — which is an existing dock,” she said.

The Frog Ferry would be a return to Portland’s roots. Prior to the construction of bridges, Native Americans used the river as a transportation highway. Ferries later carried people from one side of the river to the other.

One of Portland’s first Willamette River ferries was the Stark Street Ferry. It was eventually made obsolete by the Morrison Bridge.

Three ferries still operate in Oregon, including the Canby Ferry and the Buena Vista and Wheatland ferries in Marion County.

Bladholm explained, “Water transit is really integral to Portland from the very beginning.”

Bladholm says the Frog Ferry could shuttle 1,000 passenger each day, displacing 600 automobiles that now clog I-5 between North Portland and the downtown district.

“We can’t build roads out of the way of congestion,” she said. “We have to be more creative.”

The two-year pilot project is slated to begin in the summer of 2022 with a ticket price of $3 per trip. The City of Portland is sponsoring an application for $3 million in federal transportation and infrastructure funding; ODOT has already committed $500,00.