The White Castle ferry has been temporarily docked since June due to a mechanical malfunction, but state transportation officials say it will be shut down permanently by year’s end to save $800,000 annually.
In May, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond asked Gov. Bobby Jindal to reconsider his proposal to shut down the White Castle and Reserve-Edgard ferries on the Mississippi River.
Richmond, D-New Orleans, said the moves would negatively impact residents and businesses and kill future business investments if the areas’ transportation options were limited.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development operates eight ferries at a total cost of $18.6 million within its cost-benefit ratio, which compares ridership to crossing distance. The agency also provides essential connectivity for communities without appropriate river crossings within a reasonable proximity, officials said.
Less than 2 percent of the operating costs for the White Castle ferry are covered by its $1 round-trip toll, with the balance subsidized by taxpayers, DOTD spokeswoman Amber Leach said in a recent e-mail.
“The White Castle ferry carries approximately 150 to 200 vehicles per day and costs taxpayers approximately $28 per trip for every vehicle,” Leach said. The ferry’s termination will eliminate five positions, she said.
Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso said Thursday he has not received any official word from state representatives or DOTD officials about the White Castle ferry shutting down and until he does, he considers everything “hearsay.”
“I want to hear that from them,” he said. “They all need to come to me and to our council and tell us that. I’m going to make a call to them next week and ask them to come to our next meeting and give us a full report.”
White Castle Mayor Gerald Jermarr Williams said he wishes the DOTD would reconsider the shutdown because his residents rely on the ferry due to increase fuel costs and the current economic recession.
“I believe something can be done in regards to retaining the ferry such as building a bridge or raising the cost to commute on the ferry,” Williams said.
Leach said the DOTD is committed to working with local officials to accommodate each ferry’s ridership. She said nearby bridge crossings within a “reasonable proximity” to the ferries are being enhanced to provide adequate alternatives for commuters.
Ourso has said previously should the White Castle ferry be shut down, he would hope state officials would improve the service of the Plaquemine ferry which would surely receive an influx in passengers.
At this time, the Plaquemine ferry is not scheduled for closure due to the high volume of travelers it services daily, DOTD spokesman Dustin Annison said in an e-mail.
“The annual operating cost is approximately $2.3 million, of which approximately 4 percent is covered by the toll,” he said.
About 765 drivers use the Plaquemine ferry daily, Annison said.
The White Castle ferry was temporarily shut down in mid-June after the U.S. Coast Guard discovered problems with the ferry’s propeller shaft, DOTD officials said.
DOTD estimates that the White Castle ferry will resume service in late August before it is permanently shut down.
In the past few years, DOTD has been implementing the Streamlining Commission’s recommendations to close specific ferries that do not provide a significant cost benefit to taxpayers, Annison said.
With legislative approval, Annison said, a total of four ferries have been or are scheduled for closure by 2013.
“DOTD closed the St. Francisville ferry after it was no longer needed due to the Audubon Bridge opening, and the Melville ferry due to budget constraints and low ridership,” Annison said. “Closing these ferries saved Louisiana taxpayers approximately $2.7 million.”