Susan Bladholm is the founder and president of the nonprofit Friends of Frog Ferry. The organization is proposing a passenger ferry service to run along the Columbia and Willamette rivers.

Susan Bladholm is the founder and president of the nonprofit Friends of Frog Ferry. The organization is proposing a passenger ferry service to run along the Columbia and Willamette rivers.

Molly Solomon/OPB

Backers of a new project are making a bold pitch to Portland metro drivers: Leave your car at home and consider a commute by ferry.

The vision from the group Frog Ferry is for passenger ferries to run along the Columbia and Willamette rivers, carrying up to 149 passengers daily from Vancouver’s Terminal 1 to downtown Portland.

“We are truly looking at new transportation options,” said Susan Bladholm, president and founder of the nonprofit Friends of Frog Ferry.

Bladholm spoke to reporters Tuesday morning in front of the Willamette River and the Tilikum Crossing bridge to drum up support for the project. The organization is looking for money from public agencies and private donors to begin a series of feasibility studies.

“This is more than doable,” she said. “This is way past time.”

The ferry project already has one notable backer: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. His chief of staff Michael Cox announced the mayor’s full support in using city dollars to fund a portion of the study.

“We know we’ll have to find funding,” Cox said. “The city is willing to step up and do our part and lead a conversation with other jurisdictions to get all the money on the table.”

It’s unclear how much the city of Portland would contribute to the $650,000 feasibility study.

The Frog Ferry project is still in the early stages and will need significant financial support to progress. Bladholm says five feasibility studies and a financial plan are expected to cost $1.3 million. 

It’s unclear how much the ferry service would alleviate congestion for Clark County commuters, but organizers estimate a single ferry would take 500 cars off the Interstate 5 bridge. According to the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, more than 135,000 cars cross the I-5 bridge daily.

Bladholm says she has reached out to city officials and state agencies in southwest Washington and has put in funding requests to the city of Vancouver, the Port of Vancouver and CTRAN, the second largest transit system in the region.

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said she wasn’t invited to Tuesday’s event but has had at least one meeting with organizers from Frog Ferry.

“The council does not have it in our strategic plan, it’s not in our transportation plan, and it’s not in our city budget,” McEnerny-Ogle told OPB, explaining that Vancouver has made no financial commitments to the project.

“But we look forward to seeing how it progresses in Portland and having that conversation in the future.”

Tuesday’s event did include one person from southwest Washington, Port of Vancouver economic development manager Jim Hagar.

The port’s Terminal 1 property is currently undergoing its own transformation, alongside the city of Vancouver’s recently opened waterfront project. Port leaders plan to open a public market, a hotel and additional office and retail space. Organizers say the river ferry service could also serve as an alternative route for tourists visiting Vancouver’s new waterfront.

But if the project does move forward, Hagar said there would need to be adjustments to the dock at Terminal 1 and more parking would need to be built.

“We don’t know where this is going. but we’re supportive of the concept,” Hagar said.

If the money can be found, organizers say ferry service could start as soon as 2022.