If you wonder whether the Buena Vista Ferry is a necessity and not just a tourist attraction, the picture should clear that up.
Without the ferry, farmers with operations on both sides of the Willamette would face a difficult situation, especially during the grass-seed harvest. They would have to make detours to the bridges at Albany or Independence in order to work their fields.
As it is, operators can drive their combines on to the ferry and reach their destinations in a matter of minutes.
A ferry has been operating at Buena Vista since 1852, and the Marion County Public Works Department continues the service today. In 2011 it launched a new boat with a six-vehicle capacity, replacing one that could carry four vehicles and had been in service for 55 years.
To pay for its two ferries — the other is at Wheatland and serves about eight times as much traffic as Buena Vista — Marion County uses state gas tax receipts, federal funds and toll revenue at $3 per vehicle. At Buena Vista, the county expects to collect about $70,000 in tolls this fiscal year, up from $54,474 in 2016-17, the last year for which actual numbers are available.
For a car, the ferry charges $3. On a bike you pay $1, and on foot you can cross for free. The toll goes up for bigger vehicles, up to $18 for a rig using the entire boat.
Operating both ferries costs the county a budgeted $2.2 million in fiscal 2018-19, up from $1.8 million last year. Among other expenses at Buena Vista this year, the county lists $280,000 for 19 wireless message signs telling motorists about current operations, and $187,000 to design and construct an extension of the east ramp.
A lot of money, no doubt. But cheaper than constructing a bridge. (hh)