|Route||Virginia State Route 31|
|Carries||Automobiles and buses|
|Operator||Virginia Department of Transportation|
|Began operation||1925; state run since 1945|
|No. of vessels||4 (Pocahontas, Williamsburg, Surry, Virginia)|
The Jamestown Ferry (also known as the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry) is a free automobile and bus ferry service across a navigable portion of the James River in Virginia. It carries State Route 31, connecting Jamestown in James City County with Scotland Wharf in Surry County.
The service provides the only vehicle crossing of the river between the James River Bridge downstream at Newport News and the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Bridge upriver near Hopewell. It is toll-free and operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Operations are based at the Scotland Wharf in Surry County.
The Jamestown Ferry service was privately established in 1925. The Commonwealth of Virginia acquired it and the Department of Transportation (VDOT) assumed operations in 1945. It runs it as a state service.
The ferryboat Captain John Smith made the first automobile-ferry crossing of the James River on February 26, 1925. The privately owned business was founded by Captain Albert F. Jester. After the Captain John Smith was retired in the early 1950s, the deckhouse was put into adaptive use. For another 50 years, it was used as a private waterside cottage, perched on pilings in the Elizabeth River near Portsmouth. In 2003, the deckhouse was removed and donated to a preservation group in Surry County.
Bridge alternative considerations
The Eastern Virginia Bridge Company considered building a bridge at the ferry location in 1928. Replacing the ferry with a bridge is an issue which has been revisited by politicians, transportation officials, and the communities.
Given the costs of such construction, plans for a bridge have not gained broad support. Opponents are concerned with adverse effects of potential increases in population that a permanent crossing may cause on the southern shore of the James River. In addition, the need to provide deepwater access for shipping would require either a high bridge or drawbridge, adding to the potential cost. Tolls would not be sufficient to cover the cost of construction. Other critics cite the negative effect of a bridge on views of Jamestown Island, the Colonial Parkway, and the surrounding area. They are also concerned about traffic increasing too much on the two-lane roads on either side.
Periodically a ferry vessel will be out of service for repairs and inspection, and motorists experience delays. Existing alternate routes include the Interstate 664 Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, the Benjamin Harrison Bridge on Route 106 or the James River Bridge on Route 17.
Current ferry operations
The 15-minute scenic crossing from Glass House Point at Jamestown to the landing at Scotland Wharf is the only 24-hour state-run ferry operation in Virginia. A team of federal employees operates the four ferry system: the Pocahontas (70 vehicles), the Williamsburg and the Surry (50 vehicles each), and the Virginia (28 vehicles). Both the Jamestown Ferry and nearby Colonial Parkway are toll-free.
Passengers can walk about the boat or go up to an enclosed viewing level. Northbound passengers see Jamestown Island much as the first colonists may have approached it over 400 years ago, on May 13, 1607. Near the northern ferry landing, the replicas of Christopher Newport's three small ships, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, are docked at the Jamestown Settlement.
Since July 1, 2004, the Maritime Transportation Security Act has increased security at both the Scotland Wharf and the Jamestown landings. Increased checks have caused some delays in boarding when traffic is heavy. Security screening time should be taken into account when travelers choose the ferry.
Park and Ride bus service
To mitigate rush-hour traffic and delays due to security measures, in October 2007, Williamsburg Area Transport (WAT) began a Park and Ride transit bus service from three stops in Surry County to limited stops at several major points in James City County and Williamsburg. These terminate at the Williamsburg Transportation Center in the downtown area adjacent to the historic area of Colonial Williamsburg.
- At the Williamsburg Transportation Center, connections are available with:
- Eight other WAT routes covering portions of the city, areas in upper and lower James City County, the Bruton District of York County, and the western tip of Newport News at Lee Hall;
- an express route of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT);
- intercity bus services from Greyhound Lines (and its Carolina Trailways affiliate); and
- intercity passenger rail service by Amtrak.
- Surry County stops include Surry Government Center, Surry Community Center, and the VDOT Park and Ride lot near Scotland Wharf.
The bus makes two round trips each morning and two each afternoon during peak commuter periods, Monday through Friday. The daily fare is $3.00, which includes the cost of any transfers to other WAT routes.
Scotland in Surry County
"Scotland in Surry County" is only a short distance from the Town of Surry and State Route 10, which runs between Richmond and Suffolk. Highway 10 parallels the south bank of the James River, serving Hopewell and Smithfield.
Highway 10 provides access to many historical sites, including City Point, Flowerdew Hundred Plantation, Upper Brandon Plantation, Lower Brandon Plantation, Chippokes Plantation State Park, Bacon's Castle, Smith's Fort Plantation, and the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield.
Tourists heading for Virginia's Historic Triangle of colonial attractions (Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown) and the Colonial Parkway often approach the area from the south by water with a ride aboard one of the Jamestown Ferries.
During the busy tourist season, traffic at the ferry often backs up, even at night, causing people to have to wait several ferry cycles to get to the other side. This causes frustration for commuters who use the ferry to get to and from work.
Pop culture references
- "Capt. John Smith Ferry", Surry County, Virginia, Historical Society]
- PDF (196 KB), pages 11-12
- Orange Line - Williamsburg Area Transport
- VDOT Jamestown Ferry website
- Williamsburg Area Transport (WAT) Bus Service
- Virginia Places website Jamestown Ferry photographs