Portland-Vancouver Frog Ferry idea ‘going into hibernation’, say proponents
A controversial proposal for a ferry to move commuters along the Columbia and Willamette rivers appears to have officially sunk.
Proponents of the proposed passenger ferry service, known as Frog Ferry, say the project is “going into hibernation” after failing to convince area transit agencies to back the concept. The announcement comes as the ferry passes the deadline for a grant from the Federal Transit Administration that could have provided enough funds to get the project through its pilot phase.
In order to submit the grant application, ferry supporters needed a public transportation agency, such as TriMet, to register as a “fiscal sponsor.” They couldn’t find any.
“This has been an absolute tragedy in terms of losing an unprecedented amount of money to ferry systems,” said Friends of Frog Ferry board member Allison Tivnon.
Frog Ferry was founded as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2017 by Susan Bladholm. Bladholm said she wanted to launch a passenger ferry that would serve Portland and Vancouver to ease congestion and provide a cheap transportation option. During the pilot phase, supporters envisioned the ferry carrying passengers from Cathedral Park in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland to the Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel in downtown Portland.
Tivnon, a Beaverton councilman, said the group originally hoped TriMet, the area’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 raised alarm this spring about what they said were problems with how the group’s founder, Susan Bladholm, billed the agency, including seeking reimbursement for ineligible expenses, according to a letter sent. by TriMet in Bladholm in April.
TriMet was responsible for administering $500,000 in grants Frog Ferry had received from the Oregon Department of Transportation for some of the preliminary work being done, including feasibility studies, according to Tivnon.
With TriMet released, ferry proponents turned their attention to convincing the Portland Bureau of Transportation to support the project. But the Portland City Council was not interested. The only receptive ear the nonprofit found was Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who offered to give 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 questioning the status quo. Critics said the proposed route did not make sense and suggested there was little public appetite for a commuter ferry.
While the project has been put on hold indefinitely, Tivnon said she remains hopeful that something will change and the ferry plan will be revived. The organization’s website remains online.
“We picked up the ball, and we ran really far down the field and got to a place where we can’t continue to do this work if we don’t have financial support,” she said. “But the concept itself and all the work being done today is not just going to evaporate.”
Tivnon said she kept a “Frog Ferry” sticker on her car.