BUENA VISTA — “It’s outstanding,” Salem resident Nanci Chambers exclaimed Wednesday as she caught her first glimpse of the new Buena Vista ferry.
The gleaming white, blue and yellow vessel, named the Buena Vista, was brought up the Willamette River by tug and docked at the ferry landing north of Albany on Saturday, according to Ed Watson, Marion County’s senior ferry operator.
Now that the vessel has been turned over to the county, public works crews will spend the next few weeks hooking it up to the shore power supply and guide cables, conduct testing and provide pilot training.
It will take vehicles across the Willamette between Marion and Polk County near Independence. It is the only place to cross the Willamette River between Albany and Independence. Once vital to agricultural interests and still used by local farmers, in recent years it has become popular with bicyclists and those who enjoy driving country roads.
Chambers and her grandson, Dylan Erickson, 5, of Silverton, were enjoying a sunny afternoon outdoors and took a few minutes to watch staff from Diversified Marine Inc., of Portland, put some finishing touches on the $3.4 million Oregon Department of Transportation project. Of that, $3.2 million comes from the Ferry Boat Discretionary Fund Program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Marion County kicked in another $200,000.
“I like to ride my bicycle this way,” Chambers said. “My daughter and grandchildren used to live in Albany, and I would take this route to see them. This is going to be great. I can’t wait for it to open.”
Dylan and his brother, Tyson, 7, took one of the last rides on the old ferry, whose 55 years of service came to an end in mid-April.
“If the water level in the river was too high, the tug boats would have a hard time pushing the ferry upriver. If the water was too low, they would have to worry about gravel bars,” Watson said.
The new boat’s hull is 4 feet tall and unless it’s loaded to the gills, the ferry will draft only 2 feet of water.
It will operate much like a cable car in San Francisco, Watson said. There are three 480-volt electric lines running overhead across the river. A brass trolley will roll across the line and deliver electricity to the ferry through a large cord.
The ferry is expected to be in operation by mid-June. Marion County employs five fulltime operators and five relief operators. The new ferry will operate daily, year-round.