Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Illinois DOT Recapitalizes River Ferry Fleet

By Greg Jose

Nestled between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers north of St. Louis, Calhoun County is a picturesque rural peninsula of rolling hills, cornfields and peach orchards. Surrounded by river for all but a 17-mile-wide strip of land at its far north, the county is a virtual island, with a single bridge and four vehicle-ferry routes serving as its only other connections to the mainland.

Two of these ferry routes are free to users, and operated 24/7 by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The Brussels Ferry is located about one mile west of Grafton, near the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge and the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The Kampsville Ferry operates from the town of Kampsville in the northern part of the county.

The IDOT ferry fleet employs an unconventional vessel configuration. Vehicles and passengers are carried on non-powered barges that are certified to carry anywhere from 12 to 18 vehicles and 63 to 149 passengers. The barges are conveyed by push boats mated to the barge midship via a trailer hitch-like pivot lug linkage. This configuration enables good controllability and a degree of interchangeability and redundancy between the agency’s three push boats and four barges.

Often in the summer months, and at other peak times throughout the year, long lines of vehicles build up at the landings and a second ferry unit is placed into service. To better meet demand and retain capacity in the event of a vessel going out of service, IDOT embarked on a process to upgrade its fleet to employ two dedicated, serviceable units at each of its two route locations.

This process began in earnest in January 2010, when IDOT contracted with Art Anderson Associates (AAA) to conduct a trade-off study examining new ferry options, prepare the engineering plans and specifications for the new ferry unit, and provide inspection and support services during construction. AAA is a Bremerton, Washington-based naval architecture and marine engineering firm with a market emphasis on ferries and passenger vessels, and offered IDOT a compelling set of qualifications.

The trade-off study examined three distinct ferry schemes: a tug-barge unit of the same basic size and configuration as IDOT’s previous newest ferry unit, the Belle of Calhoun and 18-car Barge 2000; a similar, but larger tug-barge unit carrying 21 cars; and a double-ended ferry boat with a 24-car capacity. The study analyzed traffic patterns, potential tug and barge modifications, construction and life-cycle cost, safety and maneuverability, regulatory compliance, reliability, the shore-ramp interface, and interchangeability with other units in the fleet.

Weighing all these factors and after review and input from IDOT, the study ultimately concluded that a new tug-barge unit, slightly larger and with more horsepower than the Belle of Calhoun/Barge 2000 unit is the optimal solution. While this recommended configuration was estimated to cost more to construct and operate than the Belle of Calhoun/Barge 2000 unit, its advantages include increased capacity for future traffic growth, smaller queuing lines during peak periods, and a higher traffic threshold before putting a costly second unit into service.

Following IDOT acceptance of the recommendation, AAA proceeded into the engineering design phase, developing the set of plans, specifications and cost estimates necessary to bid the project. The solicitation for construction of the new unit was published in December 2011. IDOT received contractor bids and selected Massman Construction of Kansas City as the Prime Contractor, who subcontracted with Serodino Inc. to fabricate the new unit at Serodino’s Shipyard facility in Guild, Tennessee.

The new 60-foot Push Boat, christened Liberty Belle, employs twin 8.1L, 300-HP John Deere PowerTech diesel engines powering two ducted propellers via twin-disc reduction gears, and a single 30-KW Northern Lights auxiliary diesel generator for ship service loads. The new barge, named Barge 2012, is 136 feet in length (168 feet with ramps extended) and is certified to carry 21 vehicles and 149 passengers.

The unit is operated by a two-person crew of a Master and Deckhand. The Master uses the Liberty Belle’s twin propulsion drives and control surfaces to maneuver the barge via the midship tow linkage. At each landing, the Master pivots the Liberty Belle around the linkage to change directions for the next crossing and a stern latch is pneumatically deployed to firmly connect the push boat to the barge. At each end, the ferry ramps align, deploy, and contact a shore landing ramp; the ferry is tied off; and the vehicle safety barrier lowered to allow vehicle unloading and loading.

Dockside trials for the new ferry unit commenced on November 27th, followed by operational trials at the Brussels crossing. Delivery to IDOT is expected by the time of publication of this issue. IDOT is also moving forward with procurement of a second ferry unit of the same design as part of its fleet recapitalization program, and recently awarded the construction management contract for that follow-on effort to Art Anderson Associates.

The IDOT project has expanded Art Anderson Associates’ ferry vessel design portfolio and is a key success in the firm’s strategy to expand its geographic reach beyond its traditional west coast market. “We know Midwest operators have different needs than those on the coasts,” said Ralph Duncan, Vice-President of the firm’s Marine Group, “and our industry focus on design of cost-effective, reliable small passenger and vehicle ferries is a great fit for this market.” The firm’s recent experience includes similar small ferry work for Clackamas County (Oregon), Pierce County (Washington) and Kitsap Transit (Washington).

Greg Jose is the Manager of Corporate Image and Opportunity at Art Anderson Associates. He leads business development and project management for ferry transportation planning projects and is responsible for the firm’s overall marketing campaigns and programs.