TDOT offers ferry service across the Tennessee River's Kentucky Lake in Benton and Houston counties
By Bob Keast
Camden, TN. November 16 — Connecting middle and west Tennessee's two grand divisions via the ferry service began between Benton and Houston counties, shortening the commute for residents who previously had to travel far out of the way to bridge crossings near Paris Landing on Hwy. 79 some 30 miles north or the Camden to New Johnsonville route on Hwy. 70, some 25 miles south via state highways. A much shorter drive as the crow flies.
The ferry will run from a landing near Houston County's McKinnon, TN about 65 miles west and north of Nashville, to the west side of the river near Benton County's Faxon/Bass Bay/Danville area near Big Sandy, TN in the northern end of Benton County. Benton has more water recreational shoreline miles than any of the other 94 counties of Tennessee.
"It is so important to provide our citizens with different transportation options," Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely said in a news release issued for Friday's launch. "This service will not only save passengers time and money, it will also offer greater economic opportunities for the entire region." Assistant Commissioner Paul Degges and Winston Gaffron both TDOT staffers were on hand during the rides both ways as a ribbon was cut on the west side and non-alcoholic cider/champagne was used to christened the tug on the east side on the Benton Houston Ferry.
The ferry service will run every day with capacity for eight medium-sized cars or one empty tractor-trailer. Fees will vary by the size of each vehicle, but is set at 75 cents for residents of the surrounding counties and is state funded through 2009. Base fee is $ 2.00 per vehicle and is a "mighty cheap ride" according to some of the locals, compared to the price of fuel for the long way around. The Tennessee Department of Transportation spent about $ 750,000.00 to refurbish the state-owned ferry bringing it up to US Coast Guard standards and improving the approaching road in Houston County before Friday's inaugural launch, TDOT chief engineer Paul Degges said.
In Benton County, the state has recently taken over the Danville Road and according to Road Commissioner Barry "Buck" Carter, "this will enhance this end of the county as the state begins to improve the road."
The ferry, which will cost 75 cents a day round trip for locals, will run 365 days a year during only daylight hours and is funded by the state through 2009. Degges expects 80-100 cars to use the ferry each day in coming months, and about 200 cars daily in the summer. Such low traffic counts make the area a low priority for a bridge, Degges said. "We're a multimodal agency, and we need to look at all available options," he said. "This ferry service is very viable." "A person can ride for 50 cents without a car," according to Degges. Although ferries were once a fixture on Tennessee's rivers, this will be only the second passenger-vehicle ferry now operating in the state. The other is only about 30 miles away, over the Cumberland River near Cumberland City, according to TDOT spokeswoman Julie Oaks. The ferry will hold up to 22 passengers, plus crew members, and can carry six light trucks and two compact cars, or eight medium size cars, or one empty tractor trailer. The captain and crew are certified and licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, TDOT said.
State Senator Roy Herron of the 24th and Representatives John Tidwell of the 74th along with Willie "Butch" Borchert of the 75th district, several TDOT representatives, county officials from both counties were all part of the political delegation combining with 200 area residents from both Houston and Benton counties and newspaper reporters along with TV stations crews from WKRN News 2 from Nashville and WBBJ News Channel 7 from Jackson making the maiden voyage twice across the scenic Tennessee River connecting the two grand divisions.