Clackamas County to Seek Funding Support for Canby Ferry from Cities, ODOT

Clackamas County is still seeking ways to fund the Canby Ferry — and more importantly, to narrow or, if at all possible, close its annual $400,000 operational funding gap. And, like the Beatles, they’re hoping to “get by with a little help from their friends.”

At a meeting this week, County Assistant Director of Transportation Mike Bezner recommended that the Board of Commissioners ask for funding support of the ferry from the city of Canby and ODOT.

Bezner would also approach the cities of West Linn and Wilsonville with a similar ask, but the county’s general thinking was that Canby is the only one that might contribute “a little bit.”

In a follow-up email, Bezner said he didn’t know exactly what the amount would be that the county might ask for, but he expects it would be “in the ballpark” of $25,000. That’s not much when you’re looking at a funding gap of $300,000 to $400,000, but every little bit helps.

It’s not clear where this money would come from for Canby, or if the City Council would even entertain such a request. In a much earlier discussion last February, councilors expressed little interest in assuming the ferry’s full operations, but a much smaller financial contribution might be considered.

Then again, any money for the ferry would likely come from the city’s road budget, and Canby streets are already a near-constant complaint from residents as it is.

Even with the some-$300,000 in additional revenue that is coming from the new county vehicle registration fee, it’s likely that spending road money on anything other than roads would be a hard political sell.

More funding, possibly, could come from the Oregon Department of Transportation. ODOT already partially funds the operations of the Buena Vista Ferry, Bezner said, an arrangement that dates back to when Marion County agreed to take over the failing ferry decades ago.

But the state also recently announced plans to invest $2 million in not only the Buena Vista, but also the Wheatland Ferry further downstream. The project will add back-up generators and other improvements.

Canby, Buena Vista and Wheatland are the only ferries still operating in Oregon. All take passengers across the Willamette River.

Other changes are in the works, most of them suggestions that came from public engagement with the Canby area community last year.

The county has hired a consultant to come up with a marketing strategy intended to drive awareness and drive increases in short- and long-term ridership. Concepts are currently under development, with the first campaign expected to start this spring.

And it’s possible the county could do more. Here are commissioners Jim Bernard and Paul Savas discussing some of their more, um, “creative” ideas.

The county is also continuing the design and installation of telecommunications fiber at the Canby Ferry site, with the help of a $400,000 federal grant. This would facilitate new, electronic signage throughout Canby, which could be updated automatically to alert drivers as to whether the ferry is open or not.

The Canby Ferry operates year-round, technically, but is often closed in the winter months when the river level gets too high (above 70 feet). During those months, the county believes many potential users simply avoid the ferry altogether, rather than waste time driving to the end of North Holly to see if it’s open.

It would also allow the ferry to begin accepting credit and debit cards, which would make these transactions more secure and also broaden the ferry’s potential customer base.

Right now, the ferry is cash-only, and let’s just be honest: Who even carries cash anymore? The last time I had cash in my pocket was only because I found a quarter in the Fred Meyer parking lot.

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