Fredericktown Ferry’s future in question

February 18, 2013
In this September 2010 photo, Larry Rutherford of LaBelle prepares to welcome a passenger aboard the Fredericktown Ferry at the Fredericktown side of the Monongahela River. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

FREDERICKTOWN – The Ferry Boat Frederick, whose usefulness has been overshadowed by a new bridge over the Monongahela River, is once again facing a permanent dry docking.

Commissioners in Fayette and Washington counties, which share the vessel’s operating costs, have recently been in discussions about the future of the historic boat, whose ridership has been reduced by more than half since the state Turnpike Commission last year opened a new Mon-Fayette Expressway bridge connecting nearby Centerville and Brownsville, Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober said.

“It’s hard to put money into something when it’s not making money,” Shober said Monday. “We’ll have to be making a decision one way or another, shortly.”

An effort uniting five Mon Valley communities in the area known as the River Town Program will hold a meeting a 6 p.m. Thursday at the Fredericktown fire hall to outline its proposal for rescuing the ferry, said Dennis Slagle, a businessman in that village.

“It’s not going to be the typical ‘save the ferry’ thing,” said Slagle, who declined to discuss the details of the plan until the meeting Thursday.

The community in East Bethlehem Township has been home to a ferry for nearly two centuries, with the steel one now in operation dating to 1948 and put into local operation in 1973.

An average of nearly 200 vehicles relied on the ferry daily before the bridge opened in July – mostly drivers going to and from their jobs at State Correctional Institution-Fayette in LaBelle.

The ridership since has dropped to about 90 vehicles a day, Shober said, with each motorist being charged $2 to cross the river. The two counties pay an equal share of the ferry’s nearly $200,000 annual operating costs.

The counties had been approved for a nearly $1 million grant to overhaul the ferry, but they likely have missed the deadline to use the money, Shober said.

Both counties scrapped a plan to eliminate the ferry in 2009 on the heels of numerous complaints from the public. At the same time, local business owners organized an annual ferry boat festival to help turn the boat into a tourist attraction.

“The importance of it to the local community is something you don’t want to lose sight of,” Shober said.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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