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Ministry looks at ferry from Niagara to Toronto

Study out next month: Conventional ferries could cross lake in about an hour

Tom Blackwell
Southam News

A plan to ease congestion in one of the country’s busiest traffic corridors could include commuter ferries from the Niagara Falls area to Toronto, Ontario’s Transportation Minister said yesterday.

The feasibility of a ferry service across Lake Ontario is being investigated in a government study of the region’s transportation needs, Brad Clark said.

The boats might carry commuters, tourists or even trucks, bypassing the gridlock-prone Queen Elizabeth Way from Niagara to Toronto and cutting the trip’s length in half, he said.

“They clearly could traverse the lake quicker by ferry than they could going around the lake,” the Minister said.

“Because of the huge growth in tourism and goods-and-trade movement, quite literally people are looking at how do they shorten their trip to Toronto.”

The border crossings at Niagara Falls and nearby Fort Erie, adjacent to Buffalo, are among the busiest in North America, with 33 million vehicles crossing at Buffalo annually. But the highway system from there to the province’s capital city is often overloaded, with massive and chronic traffic jams during rush hours.

The government has indicated it wants to relieve some of that stress, most likely with a new multi-lane freeway parallel to the Queen Elizabeth from Hamilton to Fort Erie. But the needs-assessment study is also looking at new rail lines and transit services — and the possibility of ferries, said Mr. Clark.

David Leonhardt, Ontario head of the Canadian Automobile Association, said he hadn’t heard before that the government was studying the ferry idea. “If it’s faster than going through the [congested] Hamilton-Oakville area, it could be very popular,” he said. “It’s great that they’re studying it.”

The distance from Niagara-on-the-Lake or nearby St. Catharines straight across the water to Toronto is about 50 kilometres, compared with about 130 kilometres by road around the lake.

Even conventional ferries could make the crossing in about an hour, faster than driving in optimal conditions. And high-speed ferries like those that ply the English Channel can reach speeds of 100 kilometres an hour, meaning a still shorter trip.

If the feasibility study, due to be released next month, finds a ferry service is viable, the province would leave it to the private sector to develop it, but offer as much help as possible, Mr. Clark said.

Two years ago, a company proposed a high-speed ferry from Rochester, N.Y., to Toronto, using $80-million catamarans built in Australia, but the idea has yet to come to fruition.

A short-lived cruise boat service from St. Catharines to Toronto declared bankruptcy last year after one of its vessels lost a propeller and the other was seized by the Toronto Harbor Commission because of unpaid bills.

Passenger boats based in Toronto used to be commonplace on the lake, taking people on pleasure trips to St. Catharines and even Montreal, said Diane Beasley of the Toronto Waterfront Museum.

But the service died off in the 1950s. The government had imposed new regulations on the business following a fire on one of the boats, the S.S. Noronic, which claimed 129 lives in 1949, she said.