September 28, 2021

Chair Norton Statement from Hearing on Examining the Role of Ferries in Improving Mobility

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) during today’s hearing titled, “Examining the Role of Ferries in Improving Mobility.” Video of Norton’s opening statement is here. More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair Norton:

Welcome to today’s hearing examining the role of ferries in mobility. While the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit currently oversees two ferry programs—one under the Federal Highway Administration and one under the Federal Transit Administration—this is the first hearing the subcommittee has held on ferry transportation.

Our transportation system is facing significant challenges—traffic gridlock that wastes time and money; inequality and a lack of accessibility; a changing climate that causes severe storms and increased flooding; and serving as the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions.

There is no silver bullet to solving these problems—but providing more transportation choices is a step in the right direction. One of my priorities as subcommittee chair has been ensuring that we consider innovative and varied modes of transportation—whether improved public transit, new approaches to micromobility such as scooters, or utilizing our waterways to move people.

Here in the D.C. metropolitan area, we face some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. A 2017 study by the traffic data firm Inrix found that the worst traffic hotspot in the country was along Interstate 95 between the Fairfax County Parkway and Fredericksburg, Virginia. One of our witnesses, Frank Principi, represents a coalition looking to expand ferry service along that very corridor, which could help to improve that traffic bottleneck and provide more transportation options. 

We know that we cannot solve congestion by simply building more highway lanes—in many congested areas, more roads simply means more traffic. That means we need to pursue alternatives, including expanded ferry service.

Ferries also have the potential to help us reduce carbon pollution. While passenger cars and light-duty trucks account for 58 percent of U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions, ships and boats account for just 2 percent. Shifting more trips from highways to waterways holds great promise for reducing our carbon footprint. It can also reduce other forms of air pollution, including smog, that cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, and other adverse health outcomes.

While maritime modes of transportation like ferries are among the cleanest transportation options already, their emissions can be reduced even further as operators begin converting their fleets to hybrid, electric, or alternative fuels.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about their efforts toward fleet conversion.

Ferry service not only provides an important transportation option, it also represents an investment in our communities. It can be a catalyst for revitalization, expanding access to small businesses and community centers and bolstering the local economy.

As we work to build a transportation system that is more innovative, sustainable, and equitable, we must ensure that the federal government is a strong partner for those operating ferry service, and for those who wish to launch new routes.  That means providing funding options through our federal programs and doing the research and data collection needed to guide these investments.

I thank each of our witnesses for joining us today and look forward to the testimony.