TxDOT Ferry Operations


Ferry service has been a part of the Texas transportation system since the 19th century when the skiff, The Tarpon, began operating from Galveston Island. Later, two barges plied between Port Bolivar and Galveston. These early operations were commercial ventures and only made the trip when they had paying customers. There were no published or regularly scheduled operations.

In 1929 the first regularly scheduled ferry service between Port Bolivar and Galveston Island was established by a privately owned company. At the end of 1929 the company sold its two ferries to Galveston County and the county operated the ferry service for about 6 months. Galveston County petitioned the state to operate the ferries and then sold the two vessels to the State of Texas in April 1930.

The first ferry operated by the State of Texas left Port Bolivar on July 1, 1934. Texas operated the ferry service toll-free for approximately six months, but the service was so popular that Galveston County officials asked the state to impose a 25 cent charge to reduce traffic congestion. The 25 cent toll continued, except for a brief experimental period in 1934, until 1949. Since then, the ferry operation has been operated as a toll-free service.

In 1967 a second operation began providing ferry service across the Corpus Christi Ship Channel between Port Aransas and Harbor Island. Prior to becoming part of the state service, the ferry was operated on a fee basis by Nueces County.

The ferry port facilities, staging areas and visitor facilities were reconstructed in 1977, upgraded in 1994., and again in 2006.

Current Operations

The peak months for ferry use are June, July and August. Throughout the year, more than 4 million people use the Galveston-Bolivar ferry system. The average daily passenger count throughout the year is around 11,500, with a high 30,500 to a low 2,700 riders. The average daily vehicle count is 3,700.

Galveston Island to Port Bolivar

The Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry is the bridge between two segments of State Highway 87. South of IH-10, State Highway 87 s the only highway around Galveston Bay. The free ferry service provided by TxDOT is the only way motorists can cross the waterway between Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island.

The ferry service is critical to the residents of Bolivar Peninsula when a hurricane threatens. The ferries are the primary means of evacuation through Galveston to the causeway and the mainland. Ferries continue crossing the channel until high winds and tides make their mission unsafe. The boats are then secured in their moorings at the Galveston landing facility.

The 2.7 mile trip takes approximately 18 minutes to cross one of the busiest waterways in the world. Through the Bolivar Roads Channel flows the commerce of the Port of Houston, the nations largest inland port, as well as other Galveston and Trinity Bay communities. Approximately 7,000 ships visit the Port of Houston each year.

The ferry operation consists of five boats, each of which can carry approximately 70 vehicles, 500 passengers and six crewmembers. Each ferry is capable of carrying eight 18-wheel trucks weighing 80,000 pounds each. All of the boats are double-ended with a pilothouse on each end, and the Captain changes from one pilothouse to the other to go in the opposite direction.

The Gibb Gilchrist is a traditionally powered and steered vessel. The R.C. Lanier, D.C. Greer, Ray Stoker, Jr. and R.H. Dedman, the four newest ferries, employ a "cycloidal propulsion" system. Instead of conventional propellers and rudders, power is obtained from two vertical cycloidal propulsors, one at each end of the boat. This technology allows the ferry to make 360 degree turns or to move sideways with no forward or backward movement. It also allows the Captain to make quicker stops or slow the vessel much more rapidly than conventionally propelled boats.

All of the boats are named after former Texas Transportation Commission members except the Gibb Gilchrist. Mr. Gilchrist was the State Highway Engineer twice during his career with the department.

Between 1994 and 1996, additional maintenance and mooring facilities were built and the public rest areas were completely rehabilitated. Secure, lighted parking facilities were also provided on both sides for passengers who wish to walk aboard.
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