VDOT: delivery of newest James River ferry delayed again

Staff writer

About a year after it was expected to be on the water, the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry service’s newest ship faces even more delays.

The Virginia Department of Transportation initially expected the ship to be in service on the 2-mile stretch of the James River between James City and Surry counties in the spring of 2018, according to Virginia Gazette archives.

Now, in the spring of 2019, VDOT has said its hopes to have the Powhatan on the river by late summer of this year, according to VDOT spokeswoman Nina Napolitano.

An issue with the ship’s propulsion system came to light in August 2018 after initial dockside trials at the Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard contracted to build it. Testing showed the driveshaft vibrated in an unplanned way.

The ship entered its final phase of original construction at the time of the launch, however, in late September 2018, VDOT requested modifications to the construction plan to minimize the vibrations in the driveshaft, Napolitano said.

Months later, the Powhatan remains unfinished.

“VDOT is working with the shipyard, designer and various manufacturers to add bearings, relocate bearings and adjust supporting components,” Napolitano said in an email. “Safety is VDOT's top priority, and as we have said before, we are working as quickly and carefully as possible to make changes that will ensure safe operation of (the) Powhatan (ferry) when it joins our fleet.”

Part of the slow down has been a result of the time it takes for the shipyard to receive or for the shipyard to send to vendors, Napolitano said. Additionally, the shipyard needs to clean the inside of the ship after the parts are installed.

“We appreciate the public's patience as we continue to work on this exciting project,” Napolitano said.

The Powhatan will be the newest ship to enter the ferry service fleet and will be able to carry 70 cars — as many as the largest ferry in the fleet today.

Throughout the process, the Coast Guard has conducted routine inspections of the ship as it has been built, Napolitano said in November.

The modifications could take months to complete, and the Powhatan will still need to pass sea trials before it is delivered to VDOT, according to Napolitano.

In addition to sea trials, the Coast Guard will test the vessel and provide information on how weight should be distributed on its deck, according to James River facility manager Wes Ripley.

Once the ship is delivered to VDOT in Virginia, a local Coast Guard crew will inspect it again, Napolitano said.

Safety is something the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry service takes seriously, Ripley said in July.

There have been no fatalities or serious injuries at the fault of the ferry service in the past 30 years, Ripley said at the time.

When it enters service, the Powhatan will replace the 82-year-old ferry, Virginia, according to Virginia Gazette archives. The newer double-ended steel hull ferry will be able to carry nearly three times as many cars as its predecessor, which could only transport 25 cars at a time between James City County and Surry County.

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at srobertsjr@vagazette.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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