A controversial proposal for a ferry to move commuters along the Columbia and Willamette rivers appears to have officially sunk.
Supporters of the proposed passenger ferry service, known as the Frog Ferry, say the project is “going into hibernation” after they failed to get any of the region’s transportation agencies to back the concept. The announcement comes as the ferry blows past a deadline for grant money from the Federal Transit Administration that could have provided enough funding to get the project through its pilot phase.
In order to submit the grant request, ferry supporters needed a public transportation agency, such as TriMet, to sign on as a “fiscal sponsor.” They couldn’t find one.
“This has been an absolute tragedy as far as missing out on an unprecedented amount of money for ferry systems,” said Allison Tivnon, a Friends of Frog Ferry board member.
Frog Ferry was founded as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2017 by Susan Bladholm. Bladholm said she wanted to launch a passenger ferry that would serve Portland and Vancouver to reduce congestion and provide a cheap transportation option. During the pilot phase, supporters envisioned the ferry transporting passengers from Cathedral Park in Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood to Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel in downtown Portland.
Tivnon, a Beaverton city councilor, said the group originally hoped TriMet, the region’s transit agency, would sponsor a grant application that would allow the group to finally put a boat on the water. But TriMet officials had grown alarmed this spring with what they said were problems with how the group’s founder Susan Bladholm was billing the agency, including asking to be reimbursed for expenses that were ineligible, according to a letter TriMet sent Bladholm in April.
TriMet was responsible for administering $500,000 in grant money Frog Ferry had received from the Oregon Department of Transportation for some of the preliminary work underway, including feasibility studies, according to Tivnon.
With TriMet out, ferry supporters turned their attention to convincing the Portland Bureau of Transportation to back the project. But the Portland City Council wasn’t interested. The only receptive ear the nonprofit found was in Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who proposed giving the project $225,000 this spring to keep it afloat. He was outvoted.
Tivnon blamed the lackluster response to the ferry proposal on risk aversion and resistance to challenge the status quo. Critics said the proposed route didn’t make sense and suggested there was little public appetite for a commuter ferry.
While the project has paused indefinitely, Tivnon said she’s holding out hope something will change and the ferry plan will be revived. The organization’s website is staying live.
“We picked up the ball, and we ran really far down the field and got to a place where we can not continue to do this work if we do not have financial support,” she said. “But the concept itself and all the work done today is not just going to evaporate.”
Tivnon said she’s keeping a “Frog Ferry” bumper sticker on her car.