LOWER TOWNSHIP – One of the three ferryboats operated by the Delaware River & Bay Authority returned to service Tuesday after a five-month dry-docking to refit its engines.
The MV Delaware’s new engines will reduce fuel consumption and emissions by 40 percent as part of the $3.5 million upgrade.
This year the agency is getting $6 million in federal grants to upgrade the MV New Jersey and the MV Cape Henlopen as well.
“It’s going to be more environmentally friendly. It’s going to save us fuel costs,” DRBA Commissioner James Hogan said.
The ferry provides year-round service -- hourly in the summer -- over the Delaware Bay the 17 miles between southern New Jersey and Delaware. Each ferry can carry about 100 cars or trucks along with pedestrians and bicyclists.
The ferry also plays host to special events such as annual beer and wine festivals.
Cape May County Chamber of Commerce President Vicki Clark said the ferry is a vital part of the local economy.
“It’s our connection to Delaware, Maryland and the Washington, D.C., market, which is a strong part of our visitor base,” Clark said. “It’s a great transportation link but it’s also a tremendous attraction for our area. Many people take the ferry for sightseeing.”
The original engines on the ferries have piston designs dating back to 1938.
“They have been reliable workhorses but the design represents technology that was common in World War II submarines,” Director of Ferry Operations Heath Gehrke said. “As such the parts are harder to come by and with age we’re starting to see wear and tear.”
The new engines will burn less fuel and require less maintenance, he said, saving the ferry service $140,000 per year.
The ferry generates about $13 million in toll revenue each year from passenger tickets. This is about half the ferry’s $26 million annual budget. The ferry charges $45 for a vehicle crossing in the peak summer season and $27 in the off-season.
The ferry service represents 32 percent of the DRBA’s annual expenses. The agency also operates the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the Cape May Airport and four other regional airports.
Freeholder Will Morey said the ferry generates a lot of business from through-travelers, too.
“It brings a lot of people through our area. And it’s an important employer in Cape May County,” Morey said.