No Mirage: UDOT Operates a Seasonal Ferry on Lake Powell
Photos by Ravell Call.
By Lynn Arave THE Utah Department of Transportation maintains 5,840 total miles of road in Utah, including 971 miles of interstate highways. It also maintains a one-ship navy.
What? A ship in the desert? Yes. UDOT operates a ferry service seasonally across 3.1 miles of open water between Bullfrog Marina and Hall's Crossing on Lake Powell.
A wet, green state like Washington has dozens anddozens of ferries, but it seems unusual for the nation's second-driest weather state to have one.
The ferry, an extension of state Route 276, operates daily each spring and summer, weather permitting.
Maintaining a ferry crossing is the most feasible way to connect highways in this remote area.
The ferry, which will mark its 30th year of operation in 2014, has a vehicle capacity of 22 cars or any combination of cars, trucks, buses or other equipment that can fit on the deck. Passenger capacity is 150 for an approximately 25-minute ride.
A ride on the ferry is a scenic opportunity of its own, offering great views of Lake Powell and the surrounding area.The ferry saves about an hour in travel time for people headed to Halls Crossing, Bullfrog Marina and other areas. The only alternative route in the area is about 70 miles longer and means driving through White Canyon and Fry Canyon.
The service is not cheap. In 2005, it cost UDOT about $363,000 to operate the ferry, including a $100,000 charge to renew its license with the U.S. Coast Guard. UDOT almost canceled service in 2005, but increased the fees and reduced free rides for some groups.
When it was announced the ferry might close, people throughout the western United States sent UDOT e-mails requesting that it remain open. The Kane County Office of Tourism argued closure would negatively impact tourism, travel and emergency services in the area.
Besides tourists, area employees also regularly take the ferry. Some school buses use it to transport schoolchildren each day.
The ferry is an important link between two of Utah's most remote and rural counties — Kane and San Juan.
Regarding the unique nature of operating a ferry in a desert, Kitchen said among a flurry of local inquiries about snow removal, receiving a request for employment information on the ferry last month from a Coast Guard captain in New York seemed out of place.
Reservations on the ferry are not accepted. It is first-come, first-served. Fees are $10 for foot passengers and increases from there, depending on a vehicle's size.
The schedule varies depending on the season.
Go to: udot.utah.gov and search for "ferry" for the latest schedules and prices.
(-Updated from a Jan. 24, 2009 article by Lynn Arave in the Deseret News.)